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Breakfast on the Farm Changes Public Impressions

Ted Ferris, Faith Cullens, Marilyn Thelen, Dean Ross, Nancy Thelen, Mary Dunckel, and Phil Durst

Introduction
Breakfast on the Farm (BOTF) events in Michigan are connecting the public with modern agriculture and food production. We reported in the January 2011 issue of Michigan Dairy Review (MDR) that BOTF events in Michigan appear to be attracting the desired audience with 46% percent of respondents to our exit survey indicating they have not been on a dairy farm before and 25% percent indicating they have been on a dairy farm only 1 to 5 times. In addition, 45% live in an urban area; 42% live in a rural area, while only 14%, live on a farm.

To determine the key educational aspects of farm visits by the public, we surveyed BOTF participants. The focus of this article is on BOTF participants’ impressions about modern dairy farms and farmers. Do BOTF events change impressions and attitudes about modern dairy farms?

Impressions Count
Exit surveys were conducted at three BOTF events, in 2010 that involved dairy farms in Alpena, Clinton and Washtenaw Counties. Information from 546 completed surveys are summarized in this article.

Two survey questions were included to capture impressions before and after respondents’ BOTF experience to get an estimate of their perceptions about dairy farms and dairy farmers. The first question asked respondents to indicate their general impression before and after their visit on four statements listed in Table 1.

Values in Table 1 are averages based on a 5-point scale where 1 represents “Very Negative” and 5 represents “Very Positive”. During the walk around tour on each farm, signs, posters and individuals were stationed to provide the public with information on various aspects of modern dairy farms. Table 1 contains the average ratings before and after their visit with the changes in impressions. Averages increased from 0.71 to 0.85 points. Housing received the lowest rating before but had the greatest increase of 0.85.

BOTFfig1

Based on the distribution of responses for impressions before and after the BOTF visit for “Housing provided for dairy animals”, the percentage of “Very positive” responses increased from 35 to 76%, with only 2 of 16 remaining “Very negative”, and 5 of 32 remaining “Negative”. Similar distributions occurred for the other three aspects. In general, the number of individuals who rated these four aspects “Very Positive” doubled between “Before” and “After” their visit. The number of combined “Very negative” and “Negative” responses decreased from 33 to 3 for “How farmers care for the environment”; from 44 to 5 for “How farmers treat food-producing animals”; and, from 34 to 0 for “Steps to safeguard milk”. In addition, 12 of the 25 who responded “Negative” before for “How farmers care for the environment” responded “Very positive” after their visit. Similar results occurred for the other three aspects indicating that the BOTF visits markedly changed responses for those having negative perceptions before their visit.

Does “Where they Live” Influence their Impression?
Respondents were asked where they currently live. There were 159 respondents living in an urban area; 90 in an urban area near a farm; 65 in a rural area not near a farm; 157 in a rural area near a farm; and 74 on a farm. Results indicate those living in urban and rural areas not near farms had similar impressions before their BOTF visit and lower impressions than individuals living near a farm in either urban or rural area. Those living on farms had the best impressions before their BOTF visit, which we would expect.

The best impressions (rating) before a BOTF visit by urban visitors not living near a farm were for “Steps to safeguard milk” (3.73) and their worst rating was for “Housing provided for dairy animals” (3.44). However, their impressions about housing improved the most as a result of BOTF (+1.10 rating points). Visitors from rural areas not near a farm had the greatest increase in rating for “How producers treat animals” (+1.02) and “Steps to safeguard milk” (+1.01). The increase in ratings for those who live on a farm were one-third to one-half the increase for those not living on a farm. One would expect little change for those living on a farm; however, this group may include individuals who live on another type of farm or perhaps non-working farms and therefore were less familiar with dairy farms.

Number of Prior Visits: First Impressions
One way to evaluate how much understanding visitors have about modern dairy farms is to look at the number of visits they have made to dairy farms. As mentioned, 47% of respondents were first-time visitors to a dairy farm. The average response “Before” increased with the number of prior visits to a dairy farm, meaning those more familiar with dairy farms have better impressions. First-time visitors had the best perceptions about “Safe guards for milk” and worst perception about “Housing provided for dairy animals”. While lower ratings were given by respondents with fewer visits, these groups showed the greatest improvement in their impressions or ratings on the 5-point scale.

General Impact of BOTF Visits
Three questions were asked to get a general idea from participants about what they felt the impact of BOTF was for them. They were asked how strongly they agree with the three statements found in Table 2. Eighty-five percent of respondents “Strongly Agreed” that “Breakfast on the Farm is a good way to connect the public with modern food production”, 10% “Agreed”, while only 1.6% “Strongly Disagreed” to this statement. The average response was 4.78 on the 5.0-scale.

In addition, 78 or 17% of respondents “Strongly Agreed” or “Agreed” that as a result of the tour, they “have a better understanding of modern dairy production”. The average response was 4.71. Alpena Co. had a higher combined percentage of those who “Strongly Agreed” or “Agreed” (91+7%) compared to Clinton Co. (70 + 20%) and Washtenaw Co. (76 + 19%). In the previous MDR article we reported that Alpena Co. had a greater percentage from a rural area for both near and not near a farm while Clinton and Washtenaw Counties had a greater percentage from an urban area near a farm. This may be contributing to the noted differences.

For the third statement, the average response was 4.66 and 78% and 15% “Strongly Agreed” or “Agreed” that their “General impression about modern dairy farming has improved” as a result of their visit. Again, Alpena Co. had a higher combined percentage for those who “Strongly Agreed” or “Agreed” (92+5%) compared to Clinton Co. (71 + 21%) and Washtenaw Co. (75 + 16%).

Table 2: Percentage distribution of responses for three impact questions.

Statement

Strongly
Disagree

Disagree Neutral
BOTF is a good way to connect the public with modern food production 1.6 0 2.9
I have a better understanding of
modern dairy production
0.9 0.5 3.6
My general impression about modern dairy farming has improved 1.5 1.3 4.9
Statement

Agree

Strongly Agree Average Response
BOTF is a good way to connect the public with modern food production 10.3 85.1 4.78
I have a better understanding of
modern dairy production
16.8 78.1 4.71
My general impression about modern dairy farming has improved 14.7 77.6 4.66

Summary
Visits to BOTF events by the public are having an impact on their impressions about modern dairy farms and are helping to build trust. Exit survey results presented show that overall average ratings for “How farmers care for the environment” changed from 3.93 to 4.67 (+ 0.73) on a 5-point scale; from 3.89 to 4.66 (+0 .77) for “How farmers treat food-producing animals”; from 4.06 to 4.77 (+.71) for “The steps to safe guard milk”; and, from 3.84 to 4.69 (+.85) for “Housing provided for dairy animals”. Respondents’ prior perceptions were greatest for “Steps to safeguard milk” and least for “Housing provided for dairy animals”.

Respondents living in urban and rural areas not near farms had similar impressions before their BOTF visit but lower impressions than individuals living near a farm in either urban or rural areas. However, their impressions improved the most as a result of BOTF. Improvement in impressions was the greatest for those with fewer prior visits, meaning BOTF has more positive impact on those who have not been on a dairy farm before.

When asked how their visit impacted them, a large percentage of respondents “Strongly Agreed” with these statements: “Breakfast on the Farm is a good way to connect the public with modern food production” (85%); “as a result of the tour, they have a better understanding of modern dairy production” (78%); and “their general impression about modern dairy farming has improved” (78%) as a result of their visit.

And finally, when asked if BOTF is a good way to connect the public to modern food production “Family member of farm owner or farm employee” had an average response of 4.83; “Dairy farm employees” responded with a 5.00; “Dairy farm owner/operator” average was 4.73; and, those “Working in ag-related field” had an average of 4.91, indicating that these groups felt BOTF is a worthy effort.

These BOTF events are a collaborative effort between MSU Extension and County Farm Bureau with significant personnel and financial support from the agri-business sector. United Dairy Industry of Michigan (UDIM) provided funding for data entry for this survey.

Reference:
T. Ferris, F. Cullens, M. Thelen, D. Ross, N. Thelen, M. Dunckel, and P. Durst. 2011.  Guess Who Came to 2010 Breakfast on the Farm . Michigan Dairy Review Vol 16-1.  January.


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