Consumers gain knowledge and trust at the MSU Beef Center Breakfast on the Farm event

Consumers leave with improved impressions about beef production

December 7, 2018 - Author: Ted Ferris, Daniel Buskirk, Mary Dunckel, Ashley Kuschel, Jeannine Schweihofer, Kevin Gould, George Quackenbush, MSU Extension

People looking at cows.
Photo by Michigan State University Extension.

To determine the impact of the Breakfast on the Farm (BOTF) event held at the MSU Beef Center on SepT. 15, 2018, participants completed exit surveys as they departed. These surveys were geared to assess their change in impressions and trust in food, farming, and farmers. Of the 208 survey respondents, 49 percent were making their first visit to a working beef farm in the past 20 years, 31 percent had previously made 1 to 5 visits with 16 percent having more than 10 visits. The latter group included 5 percent who own or work on a beef farm. Only 33 percent had friends or relatives that own/owned a beef farm in the past 20 years. One of the goals of the BOTF program has been to attract the non-agricultural public, which was again successful at this BOTF event.

The age distribution of participants surveyed showed the largest group were 36-50 years old (37.5 percent), with fewest between 18-20 (5.5 percent). Surveys were completed by 65 percent females, 34 percent males and 1 percent other, and 20 percent had attended at least one BOTF event before.

In the exit survey, participants were asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed with several statements (Table 1).  The greatest agreement was for the statement “As a result of today’s tour, I have a better understanding of modern beef production”. The mean response was 4.6 points on a 5-point scale where 1 was strongly disagree and 5 was strongly agree. The next highest agreement response was “As a result of the farm tour, I believe that farmers are doing everything they can to make beef safe to eat” with a mean of 4.5. All means were above 4 points. Another way to assess the data is to examine the distribution and the percentage that agreed or strongly agreed with a statement (i.e., those with a 4 or 5 score). In general, first-time visitors had a slightly lower percentage for agreed plus strongly agreed than did all participants (Table 1). The statement with the greatest agreement was “Farmers do everything to make beef safe to eat” with 87 percent and 90 percent for first and all respondents, respectively. Similar responses occurred for “Most beef farmers take good care of their animals” and “As a result of the tour, I have a better understanding of modern beef production”.

Table 1. Mean response on a 5-point scale* and percentage of the 202 individuals responding to the following survey statements indicating they either agree or strongly agree with the statement.

 

 

% Agree +
Strongly Agree


Statement


Mean*

First-time
visitors

All
visitors

Most beef farmers take good care of their animals

4.36

81.3%

84.2%

Farmers do everything to make beef safe to eat

4.53

86.5%

89.8%

As a result of tour, I am likely to buy more beef

4.32

50.5%

52.8%

As a result of tour, my general impression about modern beef farming has improved

4.24

82.6%

78.8%

I have a better understanding of modern beef production

4.60

85.3%

82.1%

* Scale 1= Strongly disagree to 5 = Strongly agree

 

 

 


Keep in mind that the tour is less likely to impact individuals who are already very familiar with beef farms and these individuals contribute to the all respondent’s category. Looking at first-time visitors usually provides good insight on individuals who have not been on farms recently, regardless of their background. When asked if they would likely buy more beef as a result of the tour, 51 percent of first-timers and 53 percent of all respondents stated they agreed or strongly agreed. This suggests an intended behavior change toward purchasing beef. Looking at just those who strongly agreed, there were 28 percent of first-timers and 32 percent of all who were planning to buy more beef. Online follow-up surveys five months after dairy farm events suggest that half of those who strongly agree will actually purchase more products. This would be about 16 percent of respondents in this case. 

Allowing visitors to tour farms creates transparency for beef operations and this builds consumer trust. We can measure shifts in trust by asking participants their level of trust BEFORE and AFTER their tour on various topics and statistically determine if the changes in trust are significant. Keep in mind that each respondent did this assessment at the end of the tour (i.e., they indicated on the exit survey their level of trust both for BEFORE and AFTER the tour). For all of the statements shown in Figure 1, the shifts in mean responses BEFORE and AFTER were highly significant (P < .0001; data not shown). This means that the tour significantly increased participants’ trust that beef farmers will do the right thing with regard to caring for the environment, caring for food animals, keeping beef safe to eat, providing good housing, protecting water quality, and using antibiotics responsibly.

BOTF Chart

Figure 1. Percentage of respondents that indicated they had high or very high trust, either before or after the MSU Beef Center BOTF tour (Survey respondents: All visitors = 181; First time visitors = 87). 

 

It is instructive to get a sense of how many participants came and left with high or very high trust (i.e., 4 and 5 on the 5-point scale) by looking at the distributions BEFORE and AFTER (Figure 1). Looking at first-timer visitors, (n = 87), helps envision the shift for those who had not been on a beef farm in the last 20 years, or ever. The greatest percentages of high and very high trust BEFORE the tour occurred for farmers keeping beef safe to eat, with 73%, and farmers caring for food animals, with 67%. For first-time visitors, high and very high trust in these two areas shifted up to 94% and 90% AFTER the tour, respectively. The two areas that had the biggest shift in trust BEFORE and AFTER were caring for the environment, and responsible use of antibiotics. This may have been the first exposure by many participants to the concept of nutrient management, witnessing manure containment, or hearing about the overall goals of the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program. Likewise, once consumers learn the primary purpose of antibiotic use is to treat sick animals, withdrawal times are monitored before harvest, and antibiotic residues are monitored in the meat supply, they are more trusting that beef is safe.

Having fun, learning, and seeing with their own eyes, increased consumer trust in their food supply and how their food is produced. These events are a win-win effort. Opening the doors creates transparency for beef farmers and this builds trust. Hosts, volunteers and industry support make these events possible! Volunteers do their best to answer questions and survey results indicate that the non-agricultural public learned about beef production and became more trusting in farmers, their stewardship of animals, and the environment, and resulting safety of beef products.

Botf 23

Photo by Michigan State University Extension. 

 

 

Tags: beef, consumer trust, food production


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