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Cargill study finds consumers are rallying around farmers 
By Doug Schmitz
Iowa Correspondent

WAYZATA, Minn. – A study recently released by Cargill, Inc., found a majority of consumers stand ready to rally around farmers in support of their efforts to put food on tables worldwide in the midst of COVID-19.
According to the company’s latest Feed4Thought survey, consumer recognition for 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.
“Farmers and ranchers have faced tremendous pressures caused by COVID-19 supply chain disruptions,” said David Webster, president of Cargill Animal Nutrition & Health. “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. When consumers experienced bare shelves at grocery stores, they were reminded of the critical role livestock and aquaculture farmers play in global food security.”
Daniel Sullivan, Cargill director of media relations, said Feed4Thought is a regular consumer survey from Cargill’s animal nutrition and health business that explores perspectives on leading topics in the animal protein supply chain.
“As we began our thought leadership work, one of the first things we did was reach out to farmers and ask them what they needed from Cargill and the industry,” he said. “What they told us was information and insights to help them do what they do better, more efficiently, and more sustainably. But they also said they wanted an advocate, and help bridging consumer demands and expectations.”
Sullivan said Feed4Thought originally started in December 2016 with the first survey, “and we’ve conducted various surveys on a quarterly basis since then. For this particular study, we wanted to focus on consumer recognition for the challenges and expectations farmers face amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as it’s an incredibly timely topic in our world right now.
“We use the insights from our Feed4Thought surveys to help tell the story of the important work farmers do to respond to the demands of consumers. We also use the findings to help shape our solutions and offerings as a business.”
In this latest Feed4Thought survey, Cargill found nearly one-third of consumers in the United States, Brazil, Vietnam and Norway have a renewed appreciation for animal agriculture, Sullivan said.
“A demographically representative sample of 2,500 adults in the U.S., Vietnam, Brazil and Norway were polled for this particular survey because they are the four countries where we will be launching our Feeding Intelligence thought leadership platform in-language,” he said. “Having insights from the consumers in these four countries will help us better understand our audience, and shape the content we offer on the website.”
In the study, Cargill found 71 percent of consumers expressed concern about the pandemic’s disruption of the food system, with two in three consumers acknowledging an increased pressure on animal farmers to supply safe, affordable protein since COVID-19’s onset.
Conducted by Engine Insights, headquartered in New York City, the study said, “These new challenges have not, however, deterred consumers’ faith in farmers: an overwhelming majority of consumers (84 percent) indicated they were generally confident in farmers to meet demand, and feed growing populations. 
“More than half of consumers indicate they feel positively toward/appreciative of farmers, with one-third saying that their perceptions have improved as 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.”
Webster said with this also comes consumers’ growing recognition of farmers’ roles and responsibilities. Beyond the critical role of feeding the world, he said consumers also see farmers as stewards of the earth’s natural resources (47 percent), animal care experts (42 percent), technologically savvy (21 percent) and professional businesspeople (20 percent).
“On a day-to-day basis, farmers play multiple roles,” he 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.”
According to the study, respondents said they believe technology can help farmers address the challenges they face. Of those surveyed, 29 percent would like to see farmers prioritize technology that improves animal health and wellbeing, while 28 percent said they would like to see technology that improves overall food safety.
In addition, technology and innovation continue to help farmers overcome challenges:
- Real-time scans in poultry houses use Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, giving farmers insights to maximize animal comfort, health and improved efficiency.
- 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 productivity and improved farm management practices.
- The new, portable EWOS SalmoNIR technology from Cargill uses near-infrared spectroscopy to provide salmon farmers with real-time data on fat content, pigment, omega-3 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 technology desired by consumers varies across markets. In Vietnam, consumers reported the strongest technology requirement, with 36 percent of the respondents expecting farmers to be tech-savvy.
The United States, too, may be showing increased connection between farmers and technology – especially among younger generations who were more likely to desire technology that improves animal health and well-being, the study said.
Moreover, nearly a quarter of younger Americans (Gen Z, ages 18-23) look to source their food from farms using the latest technology, which is significantly higher than their elders – especially baby boomers, the study indicated.
In Brazil, farms that use the latest technology to improve efficiency, sustainability, and/or animal welfare are the most preferred source for food (25 percent), the study said.