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What does the GTA think of agriculture?

A new study explores GTA residents’ level of trust in the ag industry

By Jennifer Jackson

The majority of residents in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) believe the government should support the agricultural industry above all other industries (including the manufacturing and automotive industries), according to a new study Pubic Opinion on Agriculture: Attitudes & Opinions of Greater Toronto Residents Towards Ontario’s Agri-Food Sector, released today by Grassroots Public Affairs.

Grassroots sought to examine GTA resident’s views on the agricultural and agri-food industry in Ontario.

Toronto’s size isolates residents from the importance of the agricultural industry and food systems, which is significant because the city is one of Canada’s largest market of consumers, according to the study. Understanding what urban residents think about the ag industry is crucial to how the industry communicates with consumers.

Most Canadians now live in what classifies as urban centres – these cities are highly influential in politics and election outcomes, according to Peter Seemann, president of Grassroots Public Affairs.

“Politicians pay attention to voters,” he says. This study asks “what is it that these urban voters feel towards agriculture – do they understand it, are they supportive of it and can we prove to politicians that this industry matters not just to people in rural Ontario, but people in urban areas that are the consumers for the most part.”

A cross section of 676 civilians living in the GTA took part in the survey.

Notable study findings:

-          When asked when the last time they visited a working farm, 14 per cent of respondents said within the past 90 days. (27 per cent said in the past two years, 17 per cent said within the past 5 years, 24 per cent said within the last 7 years or more, and 14 per cent said never.)

-          68 per cent of respondents said they have not worked in the agricultural industry, nor do they know anyone that does.

-          When asked to scale their level of ag industry trust from one to five (five meaning a high level of trust), 35 per cent of respondents said level five (or a high level of trust), while only 6 per cent said level one.

-          46 per cent of respondents believe the agricultural industry will likely shrink in the future while 31 per cent believed it would grow.

-          When asked if they believe the ag industry to be capable of job production in the future, the majority of respondents were optimistic. 28 per cent strongly agree, while 36 per cent somewhat agree that the industry will create jobs. 25 per cent somewhat disagreed with the statement while 4 per cent strongly disagreed.

-          54 per cent of respondents strongly agree that the government should increase support in the agricultural and agri-food industry before other Ontario industries. 28 per cent somewhat agree with the statement while only 14 per cent somewhat or strongly disagree.

-          Those that had visited farms recently had a higher degree of trust in the agricultural industry, relating also to a higher degree of support.

Some of these findings were especially surprising to Seemann.

“There has been a lot of talk to build more trust in the industry to consumers,” he says. “The level of consumer trust was higher than (we) expected, which I think is a very positive sign (for the industry).”

Also positive for the industry is the aforementioned GTA resident’s support for agriculture over other Ontario industries.

These facts were especially surprising given that the majority of residents believing the ag industry will shrink – a finding that Seemann believes is a result of residents seeing urban sprawl and less farmland.

“I think there’s a wonderful opportunity coming into the last year of this four year term government and going into an election next year, regardless of who wins. We want to do our part at least to help the industry focus and fine tooth its message and communicate … the economic opportunities around agri-food not just for rural Ontario, but for all Ontarians.

“(Agriculture) is a huge, huge industry. We have the opportunity to maximize more of what we have done in Ontario and Canada, and get the government and public to realize that this can be the industry to really drive our economy in the next 10 or 20 years.”

The study was commissioned by Grassroots and conducted by Delphi Polling & Consulting Inc.

The rest of the survey findings are on the Grassroots website.

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