When it comes to sound agricultural practices, there is more trust and optimism among consumers than some media portrayals might suggest, according to an industry-leading survey by BASF. Survey findings were released during the "A Grounded Approach to Agricultural Sustainability" media summit hosted by BASF today.
Consumers take an optimistic view of farmland stewardship practices, and believe the industry will continue to improve sustainability efforts. Similarly, when asked to gauge their own priorities and views on environmental stewardship, growers also held a positive view.
"Consumers trust growers more than growers probably expect them to," said Paul Rea, Vice President of BASF U.S. Crop Operations. "This is a strong foundation that the agricultural industry can build on in its goal to improve trust and align priorities even further."
Along with Rea and Andrew Goetz, Manager of BASF North America Regulatory Strategy and Product Stewardship, independent toxicologist Dr. Jeffrey H. Driver participated in the panel discussion that analyzed the results. Dr. Driver encouraged media in attendance at the panel to continue to provide accurate information to the discussion about crop inputs and human health.
"People often don't appreciate the rigorous layers of scrutiny pesticides go through before and after they are approved for use by federal agencies," Driver said. "Media in the industry can help consumers understand that. Informing consumers can only lead to more confident and informed purchasing."
Approximately 400 consumers and growers of diverse age, gender, education level and geography across the United States were surveyed. Each was asked to provide an opinion of farmland stewardship topics to identify gaps in perceptions among consumers, growers and pesticide manufacturers. Participants were asked to measure the level of importance placed on certain characteristics and agriculture industry priorities when making decisions about crop inputs.
The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus five percentage points. Key findings include:
• Both growers and consumers feel that farmland stewardship practices are better now than 10 years ago, and will continue to improve during the next 10 years.
• Consumers think growers place more emphasis on environmental impact when they select pesticides than growers report of their own behavior in decision making.
• Consumers feel that growers are receiving crop inputs from trustworthy sources.
• Growers place top priority on effectiveness and cost when selecting a pesticide input.
Goetz described BASF practices both before and after product registration. Many of the practices are designed to protect human health and the environment.
"The products we develop go through years of extensive efficacy and safety testing," Goetz said. "In addition, we invest a lot of time and effort in developing directions for use and formulations that make the products safe for crops, as well as giving appropriate application rates and methods to help protect the environment."
"For example, BASF supports Operation S.A.F.E., a training program for aerial applicators that teaches them how to correctly apply crop protection products from the air. Typically, pilots fly to a central location to get their equipment calibrated and BASF will have experts on hand to provide instruction on spray patterns, spray nozzles and heights. This enables them to optimize product performance and precision application."
About the Media Summit
The BASF-sponsored media summit focused on agriculture sustainability and included a breakout session specifically addressing stewardship in crop protection. "Farmland Stewardship: Growing Toward the Future" utilized the results of the survey to address consumer and growers views of farmland stewardship and how chemical companies can assist in closing the perception gap.
Content from the event will be archived on the Web at http://www.agro.basf.com/agr/AP-Internet/en_GB/content/news_room/press_conference/2010-basf-agricultural-solutions-media-summit
"Based on our findings, consumers feel good about advances the agricultural industry has made and are asking growers to continue to place importance on environmental impacts," Rea said. "The research also tells us that growers may not be aware that they are already improving their reputation with consumers through product selection and management decisions, and that presents an opportunity to tell their story."
According to Rea, crop protection companies can provide greater value to growers by helping growers communicate stewardship processes already in place and plan for continued improvements. In addition, manufacturers should continue to be stewards through product development and support, both before and after a product goes to market. The entire industry can look to these findings as a reason to increase dialogue among growers, crop protection companies and consumers to build on, and also recognize stewardship efforts.
"In the end, it comes down to consumers having trust in growers, both to provide a safe food supply and to have minimal impact on our environment," Rea said. "We can help strengthen this trust by providing growers with the information and support they need to make sure that consumers are informed with the right information."