Farm tours are a great way to teach people about agriculture. We must recognize, though, that simply showing someone where their food comes from may not be enough to answer all their questions or tame their concerns.
The University of British Columbia (UBC) interviewed 50 Canadians before and after they took a self-guided tour of the UBC dairy farm. Before the tour, participants were asked to share any farm-related concerns. The four concerns brought up most frequently were:
- Quality of the cows’ feed
- Whether cows had access to pasture
- If cows had sufficient space
- Whether cows were treated with care
As one might expect, some perceptions improved after the farm visit. An example shared in the UBC research report was that participants had positive things to say about the quality of care provided to cows and calves after the visit.
Unfortunately, some existing concerns were strengthened and new issues surfaced.
Visitors talked about cow-calf separation, lack of pasture access, space, and poor hygiene after the tour.
The second part of the UBC study was to test people’s knowledge of farming practices. The average participant answered three of the five questions correctly before the tour and four out of five correctly afterward. Knowledge isn’t always enough, though, as the people who did the best on the test were no more positive in their perception of the farm.
In the last part of the study, people were asked if dairy cows live a good life. Before the tour, close to half said they were confident cows had a good life. After visiting, less than 25 percent responded that they were confident dairy cows had a good life. The rest of the people were unsure or not confident.
While tours can help, this survey shows that it’s going to take more to truly answer the questions consumers have. Addressing the public’s concerns about agriculture will be an ongoing responsibility of farmers, now and in the future.To learn more, read the full report, “Public expectations of a dairy farm.”