New poll finds public is behind agriculture

The survey found Canadians trust food produced in Canada but positives around the industry aren’t well known

A national poll of 1,000 Canadians found strong support for agriculture, but issues such as the canola dispute with China aren’t likely to stick with them for long.

The poll, conducted between April 29 and May 2 by Grassroots Public Affairs, was designed to measure the attitudes of everyday people, said president Peter Seeman.

He said topics quickly come and go in people’s minds, particularly when they are several generations removed from the farm.

“I think there’s great sympathy on the issue but I don’t think it’s resonating down to the rank and file,” he said of the trade disruption.

The poll found that Canadians generally trust food grown and processed in Canada, believe the industry is more environmentally friendly than some other major industries and agree with financial support from government for the sector.

Seemann said the industry should be aware and proud of this attitude.

“We fall victim sometimes of listening to the critics and the folks that make negative accusations of the industry, and it’s natural for us who work in it to be despondent and upset about that,” he said.

But multiple polls have found the same support.

Another consistent theme through this poll and other research is that the positives around the industry aren’t well known.

“We talk regularly about the opportunity for great careers in agriculture and there’s just very little awareness of that among the general Canadian population,” Seemann said.

Many tend to think of agriculture as low-cost, labour jobs and don’t think about the university-educated jobs and careers in innovation, technology and research. Industry has to better communicate these attributes, he said.

Poll respondents expressed uncertainty about the environmental impact of agriculture compared to 30 years ago. Thirty-six percent said they believed practices were less harmful, 34 percent said more harmful, 19 percent said the same and 11 percent didn’t know.

Seemann said the lesson from answers like that is that the industry has to communicate.

He said governments, particularly the federal government, have forgotten about agriculture and food over the last few years. The glimmer of hope provided by the Barton report a couple of years ago, identifying agriculture as a growth sector, hasn’t materialized in terms of government leadership.

“Until a government in Ottawa, regardless of the political stripe, can begin to make agriculture a national priority, we think we’re missing a lot of opportunities,” Seemann said.

Grassroots Public Affairs is a research and public relations company working with the Canadian Federation of Agriculture on its campaign for the upcoming federal election.

The full poll can be found at grassrootspa.ca. It is accurate plus or minus three percent, 19 times out of 20.

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