A recent study by Cargill found that a majority of consumers stand ready to rally around farmers in support of their efforts to put food on tables around the globe, according to a company news release.
Consumer recognition of the challenges and expectations farmers face grew amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as processing and transportation bottlenecks, especially in the protein industry, stretched the global food supply.
In its latest Feed4Thought survey, Cargill found that nearly one-third of consumers in the U.S., Brazil, Vietnam and Norway have a renewed appreciation for animal agriculture.
"Farmers and ranchers have faced tremendous pressures caused by COVID-19 supply chain disruptions, and those pressures came on top of the multitude of challenges farmers already faced as they worked to feed the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way," Cargill Animal Nutrition & Health president David Webster said. "When consumers experienced bare shelves at grocery stores, they were reminded of the critical role livestock and aquaculture farmers play in global food security."
In the survey, 71% of consumers expressed concern about the pandemic's disruption of the food system, and two in three consumers acknowledged the increased pressure on animal farmers to supply safe, affordable protein since the onset of COVID-19.
These new challenges have not, however, deterred consumers' faith in farmers: An overwhelming majority of consumers (84%) indicated that they were generally confident in farmers to meet demand and feed growing populations. More than half of consumers indicated that they feel positively toward/appreciative of farmers, with one-third saying their perceptions have improved compared to pre-pandemic.
This high confidence and increased appreciation toward farmers suggest that COVID-19 may be acting as a catalyst in strengthening the relationship between consumers and farmers, according to Cargill.
With this also comes growing consumer recognition of farmers' roles and responsibilities. Beyond the critical role of feeding the world, consumers also see farmers as: stewards of the Earth's natural resources (47%), animal care experts (42%), technologically savvy (21%) and professional businesspeople (20%).
"On a day-to-day basis, farmers play multiple roles," Webster said. "They work to keep their animals healthy and free of disease, protect the Earth's resources and manage their operations sustainably, provide employment and run a profitable business."
The findings suggest that respondents believe technology can help farmers address the challenges they face. Of those surveyed, 29% would like to see farmers prioritize technology that improves animal health and well-being, while 28% would like to see technology that improves overall food safety.
Technology and innovation continue to help farmers overcome challenges. For example:
* Real-time scans in poultry houses use artificial intelligence and machine learning, giving farmers insights to maximize animal comfort, health and efficiency improvements.
* Companies like Cainthus are investing in computer vision technology. When farmers have access to real-time data, they can make more informed decisions that can improve nutrition, enhance animal well-being and comfort and, ultimately, increase milk component yields. These technologies can also improve the environmental impact of farming, making it more sustainable.
* Swine technology leader Agriness combines data management and deep expertise in animal nutrition and production to improve predictions, such as for productivity and better farm management practices.
* The portable new EWOS SalmoNIR technology from Cargill uses near-infrared spectroscopy to provide salmon farmers with real-time data on fat content, pigment, omega-3 content and other important parameters, helping them make better, quicker farm management and nutrition decisions.
"These technologies are already making an impact on farm sustainability, business profitability and animal health, and we're innovating fast, anticipating the needs in all of our markets to ensure farmer prosperity," Webster said.
The study also found that the technology consumers desire varies across markets. For instance, in Vietnam, consumers reported the strongest technology requirement, with 36% of respondents expecting farmers to be tech savvy. An increased connection between farmers and technology is also growing in importance in the U.S., especially among younger generations, who were more likely to desire technology that improves animal health and well-being.
Nearly a quarter of younger Americans (ages 18-23/Gen Z) look to source their food from farms using the latest technology, which is significantly higher than older cohorts, especially Baby Boomers. In Brazil, the most preferred source for food is farms that use the latest technology to improve efficiency, sustainability and/or animal welfare (25%).
"Agriculture has always been a technology industry, but as consumer support of farmers continues to grow, we see an opportunity to create a dialogue that provides greater visibility into the innovative advancements we're seeing in agriculture today and highlighting the important role technology will play in the future of our food," Webster said.
Feed4Thought is Cargill Animal Nutrition & Health's consumer survey that explores key perceptions and opinions about important topics in the animal protein supply chain. This survey was conducted in August 2020 by ORC and polled a demographically representative sample of 2,500 adults in the U.S., Vietnam, Brazil and Norway.
Cargill Animal Nutrition & Health business has more than 20,000 employees at 310 facilities in more than 40 countries, offering a range of products and services to feed manufacturers, animal producers and feed retailers around the world.
Cargill's 155,000 employees across 70 countries work to achieve the purpose of nourishing the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way, connecting farmers with markets, customers with ingredients and people and animals with the food they need to thrive.