During a challenging year and against a backdrop of major change for industry, consumer attitudes towards UK farmers has grown in positivity according to a new report from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).
In 2020, a total of 66% of people said they felt very or somewhat positive about British agriculture – up 4% on the year before, with the biggest improvements coming in the horticulture, pork and potato sectors.
According to AHDB’s new 'Trust in Farming and the Environment: The Consumer Perspective' report, most view farmers positively in regard to the environment, with those who think farming in the UK has a negative impact in the minority – just 15%.
However, consumers would like to see farmers do more to demonstrate their environmental credentials through planting trees, sustainability labelling and boosting efficiency.
AHDB consumer insight manager and author of the report Susie Stannard said:
Consumers have responded positively to farmers' efforts to keep the nation fed during the pandemic.
"But whilst there is goodwill, there is also growing awareness of many environmental issues affecting farming, both internationally and in the UK, and a desire to see agriculture make improvements."
The report, which took findings from a study conducted with research organisation Blue Marble, looks at issues of trust and transparency in the agri-food system and explores how attitudes towards the food system have evolved over time, as well as which elements are trusted most.
The report shows that during 2020, coronavirus was the biggest concern for consumers – displacing Brexit – due to its impact on health and the economy.
Beyond this, the environment continued to be a top priority for consumers and, on the surface, global issues such as pollution from plastic waste and climate change were the main concerns.
However, the top issues amongst those most concerned about the environment were much more relevant to the UK – issues such as methane from livestock, the amount of land allocated to animal production, water use in arable, flooding and soil erosion came out top.
Stannard added: "Globally, a third of consumers are generally concerned about the effects of farming on the environment.
"However, in the UK, people feel much more positively about the impact of farming in this country and we should use that as a base to build from.
One of the reasons why British people generally trust farmers is because their stewardship of the land demonstrates they care for the environment, as well as for their expertise and commitments to animal welfare.
"It’s vital that as an industry agriculture can clearly and simply communicate improvements made in sustainability to retain that consumer trust," she concluded.