A survey of almost 3000 Australians has revealed beef and dairy producers still have the trust of most people despite the efforts of noisy critics out to wreck the industry.
The results of the survey by researchers at the University of Queensland were outlined at last week's annual conference of the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association in Darwin.
Dr Brad Witt, from the university's school of earth and environmental sciences, said overall trust in producers was high but the survey had also identified large numbers of people who were unsure about the environmental impact of beef and dairy production.
Farmers needed to tell their production and environmental stories to this group in language they could understand or risk losing them to the claims of radical animal activists who represented only about 0.5 per cent of the population.
Rather than strongly reject their fears about the impact of cattle farming on the environment, producers should acknowledge their concerns and seek to communicate with them in a respectful way, Dr Witt said.
He said the 2913 respondents to the survey were representative of the national community.
Live exports and farming generally were not at the top of the list of major issues for most people who were more worried about things like the impact of drought, the cost of living and immigration, he said.
About 10pc of the people surveyed said they didn't trust cattle producers and wanted the industry regulated.
Vegans and vegetarians were not driving criticism and mistrust in the industry while there was also only a weak relationship between people's views on diet and their perceptions about the environmental footprint of livestock farming, Dr Witt said.
He said a series of questions about respondents' underlying views around the environmental impact of cattle farming had identified three groups the industry needed to focus on individually with different approaches and messages.
The largest group - around a third of the population - had high levels of trust in producers but were unsure of the environmental performance of the industry.
Dr Witt said the industry had a great opportunity to alleviate their concerns with a carefully targeted communications program. Many people in this group were yearning for a connection with the environment through their food.
Another group - around 20pc of the population - had high trust in producers and were warm supporters of the whole industry.
Many were knowledgeable about the cattle industry and had the potential to be harnessed as enthusiastic champions and advocates to spread the word about the industry and its practices to the wider community.
Members of this group wanted to become more engaged with the industry and producers, he said.
The third group believed the industry needed to be regulated - along with all other industries - and had the lowest opinion about the environmental performance of the cattle industry.
While they didn't eat much beef or dairy because of the impacts on health and the environment, they still had relatively high levels of trust in producers.
"So there is still some capital to work with," Dr Witt said.
Fiona Simson, president of the National Farmers Federation, told the conference that farmers were still held in high esteem.
"We've made so many deposits into the trust bank," she said.
With more and more people having no direct connection with agriculture, it was important for farmers to tell their stories to the wider community, she said.
People loved farmers but they didn't know much about what they do, she said. The community had strong views about rural issues such as genetic modification, chemicals such as glyphosate, irrigation, greenhouse gases emissions and water use which were now being exploited by agriculture's radical enemies.
"A mall minority are making a lot of noise and moderate sections of the community are starting to listen to what they are saying."
She said this risked politicians rushing to make laws on what a small percentage of the population was saying.
The whole food and fibre supply chain needed to stick together to talk to the wider community about all agricultural industries and processes in a language they understood.
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