Agriculture ranks No. 1 in public opinion

Americans love farming. They’re not so crazy about professional sports these days.

That was the public consensus as measured by the Gallup Poll Social Series in late July and early August. Agriculture ranked No. 1 among 25 business and industry sectors among those polled. Nearly 70% of respondents had a positive view of farming and agriculture, up 11 points from last year.

The sports industry, on the other hand, plummeted toward the bot­tom of the list in the biggest drop among sectors—its positive score falling 15 points from 45% to 30% year over year. In fact, sports tied with the federal government for the worst-rated distinction.

Let that sink in for a minute. Many Americans now view profes­sional sports as poorly as they do professional politicians.

Granted, the agricultural industry historically has fared pretty well in this particular survey, usually ranking near the top, but this was the first time it was the clear leader in the 20 years Gallup has tracked public opinion through this poll.

It’s also the first time in the 20 years of Gallup measurement that a majority of Americans rated the health care industry positively. With a 13-point increase to 51%, health care advanced from the third-lowest sector to near the middle of the list.

You don’t have to be a statistician to make sense of these numbers. The poll’s results directly reflect the public’s current state of mind. From the start of the coronavirus pandem­ic, farming and health care workers have been deemed “essential” as they deliver vital goods and services to Americans. Even when many other activities come to a screeching halt, they keep going at all costs.

On the other hand, the slide in the sports industry’s image comes as professional and college leagues are struggling—and not always success­fully—to begin or resume regular schedules. For safety’s sake, most sporting events had to be suspended for months. Relationships with fans have been disrupted by shortened seasons and empty venues.

Professional football, baseball and basketball games have also become focal points for social and political protests. Public displays of activ­ism by players, coaching staffs and even entire leagues appear to have turned off Americans who disagree with their messages or the way they express them. Kneeling during the national anthem is now common. And when the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs locked arms in a show of “unity” before the NFL’s season opener, many of the 16,000 fans who were allowed to be there booed in disapproval.

They didn’t want the players to take a stand. They just wanted them to take the field.

In contrast, the public seems to have gained new appreciation for farmers. The COVID-19 turmoil in supply chains made people in­creasingly conscious of where their food comes from. Many farms have responded to the crisis by selling direct to consumers, building better relationships with nonfarming neighbors. Small-scale, local meat processors are booked well into next year, and many will be able to ex­pand capacity with grants awarded last month by the Missouri Depart­ment of Agriculture. Using $20 million in federal CARES Act Funds, the grants will help add resilience to the food supply chain and benefit both farmers and consumers.

And, as you’ll see in our cover story on page 20, agritourism farms have seen increased interest and an influx of visitors. They hope this trend will continue when things get back to “normal,” and so do I.

Even in the midst of their own troubles, farmers also banded together to help others. A great example is the Drive to Feed Kids Pork Partnership, which bridged the gap between Missourians in need and hog producers who faced a reduction in processing availability. The partnership has now distrib­uted more than 50,000 pounds of ground pork to regional food banks.

Times were already tough for the agricultural industry before the pandemic, but, like always, farmers keep forging ahead. That persever­ance earns much-deserved respect.

But public opinion is a fickle thing. It doesn’t take much to shift that balance to negative. If the agriculture industry wants the positive perception to outlast the pandemic, we need to do more than just ride the wave of goodwill we’ve gained. Let’s keep supporting those in need. Connecting with neighbors. Looking for ways to add value for our farms and customers. Producing safe, quality food, fiber and fuel that are fundamental to American life.

Agriculture is essential. Sports are not. It’s a reality no one can deny— especially not now.

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