Breakfast on the Farm visits create greater trust and confidence in modern beef production.
By: Ted Ferris, , Nancy Thelen and Ashley Kuschel, Michigan State University Extension
A 2014 Breakfast on the Farm (BOTF) event held on a beef operation owned by the Uphaus family in Washtenaw County, near Ann Arbor, Mich., hosted 2,400 participants. The large event coordinated by Michigan State University Extension involved over 350 volunteers including farmers, family members, organization representatives and agribusiness professionals. This educational tour included a number of stations and volunteers answering questions. Exit surveys completed by 319 participants as the left the tour show the impact of visiting a modern beef farm on consumers understanding and trust in how beef cattle are managed and how safe beef products are for the consumer.
Producers caring for food-producing animals
The consumer is interested in how food animals are managed. Consumers want to trust that producers will do the right thing. Participants were asked their level of trust that beef farmers will do the right thing with regard to caring for food-producing animals. On a five-point scale, from very low to very high level of trust, 69 percent said they had high or very high trust before their tour. This shifted to 90 percent after, leaving only 2 percent with low or very low trust that farmers will do the right thing regarding animal care. The second question asked their level of trust that beef farmers will provide good housing for animals. Sixty-eight percent responded they had high or very high level of trust before, shifting to 89 percent after their tour. Those with low or very low level of trust shifted from 10 percent before to 3.3 percent after.
Trust in food production
One of the goals of BOTF is to help consumers better understand how food is produced on modern farms. Before their tour, 56 percent indicated their level of trust in modern food production was high or very high and this increased to 80 percent after the tour. For this question, 7 percent had a very low and 12 percent low level of trust before. These percentages dropped to 3.1 percent having a very low and 3.7 percent having a low level of trust in modern food production after the tour.
When asked their level of trust that beef farmers will do the right thing with regard to producing safe, wholesome food, 70 percent indicated that there level of trust was high or very high before their tour and 90 percent indicated they had high or very high trust after. On the other hand, there were 9 percent with low or very low level of trust before and 2.6 percent low or very low trust after their BOTF educational tour. The level of trust before was a bit higher for beef production than to similar questions about dairy production and higher yet than for crop production. This may be because more of the manage processes are visible with animal production tours.
Beef as a safe food
The shift in trust in beef as a safe food was evident as well. This shift went from 27 percent high and 39 percent very high level of trust in beef as a safe food prior to the tour to 25 percent high and 59 percent very high after, totaling 84 percent with high trust after their tour vs. 66 percent before (Figure 1). On the other end of the scale, 4.2 percent had very low trust and 10 percent had low trust before the tour, shifting to 1.7 percent with very low and 3.7 percent with low trust after the tour.
Figure 1. The level of trust in beef as a safe food before and after the educational tour.
Levels of trust were lower for first-time visitors but resulted in a greater shift in trust. There were 3.2 percent with very low and 14 percent with low trust shifting to 1.3 percent with very low and 2 percent with low trust (Figure 2.). While there were 61 percent with high or very high trust before, shifting to 85 percent with high trust after the tour. Consumers have expressed concerns regarding hormone levels in meats. Included in the tour was a display on the use of growth promoting nutrients in beef cattle and the resulting minuscule level of estrogen in beef, particularly as compared to levels produced by humans.
Figure 2. Level of trust in beef as a safe food before and after the educational tour for first-time visitors.
When asked their level of confidence in Michigan beef products, 70 percent were already confident. This was split between 27 percent with high and 43 percent with very high level of confidence before. These levels shifted to 23 percent with high and 65 percent very high after. This represents one of the smaller shifts to high level of trust i.e., 70 percent before to 88 percent after the tour. In part, this is because respondents’ were already confident.
Educational farm tours are a transparent way to build trust with consumers by providing the consumer an opportunity to see how modern farms work and to interact with producers and agribusiness professionals. Those visiting beef farms learn about animal feeding, care and housing, and use of growth promotants, and come away with a sense of trust in modern food production and the farmers who produce their food.