NGOs – and sometimes it seems the government too – like to beat up on farmers over the agricultural sector’s environmental credentials. But survey results from an independent research company shows the general public believes farming does quite well on environmental compliance in comparison to some other industries, and compared to the rest of the world.
Asked how well they thought farmers in New Zealand managed environmental impacts, agriculture out-performed ‘industrial activities’ and ‘urban development’. And 44 percent thought our farmers were better at environmental management than the global average (New Zealand industrial activities 41 percent, and urban development 36 percent).
Other results show that good numbers of Kiwis believe farmers and growers have lifted their game in terms of general perception of the agriculture industry compared to three years ago.
Every two months Research First runs national surveys on topical issues. Liz Morley, an insight specialist with the company, says 380 people are asked the survey questions, with quotas on the sample by age, gender and location. The survey is considered “statistically robust” and accurate to plus or minus 5 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.
“You could describe the surveys as a litmus test of public perceptions and feelings,” Liz says.
“Our look at public perceptions of industry showed Kiwis being more confident in our primary producers than media trends often portray.”
When compared with the management of environmental impacts from urban development and industrial activities, “significantly higher numbers think the impacts of farming in New Zealand are well managed,” Liz says.
Put into a global context, the results are also positive.
So why don’t we hear the positives more?
Where just over half of the Research First survey participants (57 percent) supported the notion that farmers and rural communities in New Zealand need a stronger advocacy voice, 25 percent thought they didn’t, leaving a significant 18% as ‘unsure’.
“This bulk of unknowns is a strong indicator that the public are aware they are seeing a distorted reality through the media, some politicians and fringe groups,” Liz says. “This group do not feel they have a clear picture of the situation those communities face and they are not willing to pass a judgement without it.”
Other questions from Research First plumbed people’s positive vs negative perceptions of various sectors when compared with three years ago. Farming and horticulture again fare reasonably well in the findings.
Rental hiring and real estate services came out poorly, with a huge 38 percent of the population stating their views of the industry have got more negative over the last three years.
“The data also shows that Kiwis are more confident in our primary producers than media trends might often portray. This is particularly the case for horticulture, though significant proportions also state their perceptions of dairy, sheep & beef and arable farming have become more positive,” Liz says.
Those who said their perceptions were more negative for each industry were asked to elaborate. The most common reasons cited for farming and agriculture were environmental impact, prices, staff shortages and waste. In terms of waste, Liz believed the respondents were referring to concerns about fruit and other crops being left on trees or the ground unpicked because of staff shortages, COVID, damage from weather events, etc.