The Edelman research delved deeper to gauge who the public trusts and does not trust in the agricultural sector on food-related issues. The results suggest that by in large the general public trusts “farmers,” but not so much “growers.”

“I think the general public is getting so far removed from agriculture and how food is grown that they are somewhat confused about who is a farmer and who is a grower,” Vradenberg said. “They think there is a difference between the two. They believe farming is a localized lifestyle business and perceive growers as closer to agribusiness.”

Another pointed question inquired about consumer trust of agricultural companies. More than 25 percent of the respondents believe agricultural companies would not do the right thing in food-related issues.

Regarding a question on regulations of chemical and fertilizer use to produce and preserve food, more than 50 percent of the consumers, regardless of their political party affiliation, said more regulations are needed.

“This is a serious issue for agriculture,” Vradenberg said. “We can’t effectively produce crops without these tools. We can’t afford to be burdened with excessive regulations.”

On water use in agriculture, more than half of the surveyed consumers supported more regulations on water use in food production and processing. 

Edelman also quizzed consumers on organically-grown food. More than 60 percent of the consumers supported regulation to require more organically-grown food in the U.S. More than 40 percent believe organic agriculture can grow enough food to fill the stomachs of a growing population.

“Consumers like the concept of organic food,” Vradenberg said. “They associate organic food as locally produced, fresh, and nutritious and therefore good for the local economy.”

Overall, Vradenberg says public attitudes reveal the average consumer is not well informed about agriculture.

Organic food represents less than 5 percent of all food consumed in the U.S. and continues as a growing trend.

“Should we ignore organic or fight it? Neither,” says Vradenberg. “We need to find a balance.”

Internationally, organic food lacks a major following. About one-third of the world’s 6.9 million residents is malnourished, according to the United Nations. About 1.3 billion people earn about $1 in income per day and cannot afford organic food or enough meat in the diet. Vradenberg says many of them do not consume enough calories to be physically or mentally productive.

On agriculture’s future, U.S. agriculture has its work cut out, Vradenberg says. While most farm ground in China and India produces low yields, this will change exponentially down the road and one day will challenge U.S. farmers.

Domestic future trends at home will include finding technological solutions for food safety issues, climate change, water scarcity and environmental degradation while producing more food on less land.

Efforts to curb obesity in the U.S. will increase; the No. 1 cost of the U.S. health care system. That, Vradenberg says, will bid well for California farmers.

“Many crops grown in California have a bright future because they improve the human diet. There will be increased consumption of fresh produce in the future.”

cblake@farmpress.com