It seems like the agrifood industry is always being criticized and is always under attack, and professionals in the industry feel like they must continually defend themselves and their practices.

But guess what? They are not alone. Skepticism and mistrust are commonplace these days.

Something I found interesting was that a Gallup poll from 2020, which tracked Americans’ views on various sectors, showed that agriculture was the most trusted industry in the United States. And really, it wasn’t even that close.

The poll showed that 69% of Americans polled have a positive view of the farming and agriculture industry, while 19% are neutral and 11% have a negative view of it. That leads to a 58% net positive rating.

The next most trusted industry had 63% of respondents say they have a positive view of it. So what industry came in second? Well, it’s also related to food. It was the grocery industry. And with 12% of respondents say their views are negative, that contributed to a 51% net positive.

It gets more interesting when you look at who comes in third. Earning the bronze medal is the restaurant industry. Hmm. Again, it is related to food. That industry had 61% reporting a positive viewpoint, and 15% reporting a negative viewpoint for a net positive of 46%.

Just for the record, coming in fourth was the computer industry with a 44% net positive rating.

What is the lesson?

These poll results are encouraging, but what is the lesson here? Why don’t we learn from someone in academia?

I actually learned about this Gallup poll, which is admittedly a little dated, by reading a recent blog from Jayson Lusk, distinguished professor and head of the Purdue University Department of Agricultural Economics. But the lesson is timeless.

Here is his take on the matter: “Many farmers get frustrated by consumers’ lack of knowledge about farm practices and technology, and many actors in the food and agricultural sectors often feel beleaguered by criticisms aimed at the industry. These poll results seem to suggest that, on the whole, food and farming are viewed quite positively. While there are certainly topics where consumer education and engagement will be useful, there seems little reason to have an overall defensive stance, and rather the results suggest a fair amount of social capital is built up that could be leveraged for the industries to take a leadership role.”

Lusk is right. There’s no need to get defensive. There are people out there whose views will never change and agriculture will never have a 100% net positive. But we should work hard to retain the support of that 69% and gain the trust of the 19% with a neutral view.

The best way to do that? Look at continuous improvement, tell your story in a positive tone as to why you do what you do, and be honest and transparent. It's mighty hard to build or retain trust if you don’t do those things.