SURVEY REVEALS PUBLIC ATTITUDES ABOUT AGRICULTURE
Is Alabama one of the leading farm states in the nation? Do
lawn fertilizers pollute the environment? Are Alabama's rural
communities in decline?
Questions such as these were recently posed to Alabama citizens
via an Auburn University survey designed to gauge public knowledge
about agriculture, the environment and rural life. Results suggest
that misconceptions abound, but so do opportunities for enlightenment
and frank discussion.
The survey, which was conducted by the AU Center for Governmental
Services, was commissioned by the AU Butler/Cunningham Endowment
in Agriculture and the Environment. Its purpose was to determine
just how much Alabamians know about agriculture and related subjects.
"The survey revealed that although Alabamians were not well informed
about agriculture in their state, they did have concerns over
environmental issues and the future of rural Alabama," says Claude Boyd,
Butler/Cunningham Professor at Auburn University.
"The survey also is a catalyst for opening discussions into the
future of agriculture in Alabama," says Boyd. "I'm hopeful that
dialogue will include the public, policy makers, regulatory and
governmental agencies, agriculturalists, environmentalists, industry
representatives and many others."
In fact, survey results will be an integral part of the first
Butler/Cunningham Conference on Agriculture and the Environment
to be held Nov. 13 and 14 at the Birmingham Marriott Hotel. The
conference will feature a discussion of the status of agriculture
in Alabama and will lay the groundwork for future Butler/Cunningham
conferences that will focus more directly on specific issues relating
to rural issues in Alabama.
For the survey, 988 adult Alabamians were asked about 40 questions
relating to agricultural, rural and environmental subjects. Their
responses show that, overall, Alabamians are empathetic toward
agricultural and rural concerns but have a relatively weak
understanding of the issues and facts.
For example, respondents expressed a high regard for agriculture
and were supportive of government subsidies, higher food prices
and import restrictions to protect agriculture and the environment.
The majority also viewed agriculture as an asset for the state and
did not consider it a major threat to the state's environment.
Boyd says, however, many Alabamians surveyed were not aware of the
actual status of agriculture and rural communities in the state.
More than half of the respondents (56 percent) believed Alabama to
be one of the nation's major agricultural producers. It actually
ranks 23 out of the 50 states. Three-fourths thought Alabama was
blessed with excellent climate, soil and growing conditions for
agricultural crops. In truth, its disparate and often poor quality
soils and its hot, humid climate are poorly suited for many crops
and farm enterprises.
Respondents recognized that the number of farms and farmers has
dwindled in the state but did not know just how few existed. More
than half those surveyed thought that some 5 percent of the population
was involved in farming. In reality, less than 2 percent of the state's
Nearly two-thirds of the respondents agreed that food prices in
the nation are low and said they would support higher prices to
sustain farming or protect the environment. Nearly three out of
five were willing to pay more for food to protect U.S. agriculture.
Three-fourths also strongly supported limiting the importation of
Perceptions about agriculture's influence on the state's
environmental quality also were generally positive, though not
necessarily realistic. Some 46 percent of respondents believed
that fertilizers were a major environmental hazard. About half
thought poultry litter was a major pollutant, while 43 percent
thought that beef and swine operations posed major hazards. However,
most of the respondents ranked agriculture far below industry as
a major polluter in the state.
The respondents did not see agriculture as a major environmental or
aesthetic hazard to urban areas, and 42 percent thought that farms
actually enhanced the quality of life in residential areas. They
also recognized that home pesticides posed a threat to the environment
but did not see home fertilizer use as a problem.
Complete results of the survey can be found at www.ag.auburn.edu/BC.
From this page, go to 2002 Conference and then to 2002 Poll Results.
The program and registration information for the Butler/Cunningham
Conference also can be found on the Web site. The conference is open
to all interested Alabamians. Boyd encourages the public to register
For more information on the conference, contact June Burns at (334)
844-4076 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Boyd at (334) 844-4075