COLUMBUS – More than 70 percent of Ohioans who say they are familiar with issues pertaining to large-scale poultry and livestock facilities are concerned that the farms pose a threat to Ohio’s water and stream quality.
According to an Ohio State University survey of about 4,000 Ohioans conducted last summer, one-third or 1,267 respondents said they were familiar with the issues.
Of those, 71 percent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “Large-scale poultry and livestock facilities pose a serious threat to water and stream quality in Ohio.”
In addition, 59 percent agreed or strongly agreed that the facilities “are a threat to rural quality of life.”
< Initial findings./b> Jeff Sharp, assistant professor of rural sociology and one of the lead investigators of the survey, presented initial findings of the study at a conference Dec. 12.
Sharp also reported that the large scale-poultry and livestock issue currently appears to be a regional issue in the state.
Nearly 56 percent of central Ohioans and 43 percent of northwest Ohioans reporting they were familiar with the issue compared to 25 percent of northeasterners and 27 percent of southwesterners.
Colored views. Not surprisingly, respondents’ views of the livestock issue and other agricultural issues is often colored by how closely linked they are to farming, Sharp said.
For example, people with farming parents or grandparents tend to be more trusting of farmers and generally have more positive attitudes toward agriculture, Sharp said.
In all, 29 percent of the respondents had parents who at one time owned or operated a farm, and 49 percent had grandparents who had a farm, Sharp said.
However, that connection to farming through family history was much more likely for older respondents.
The implication is that the strength of support and good will of Ohioans toward agriculture could diminish as that generation dies off unless agriculture finds new ways to develop links between nonfarmers and farming, he said.
“One of the messages to be drawn from this research is that, yes, indeed Ohio is an agricultural state with many Ohioans having farming roots, but we also see that agriculture is changing and some of that change can be controversial because it isn’t consistent with the way it used to be,” Sharp said.
Levels of concern. One part of the survey focused on the level of concern over large-scale poultry and livestock farms.
In all, 21 percent of all of the respondents were “very concerned” and 28 percent were “not at all concerned” about them, with the majority of respondents “somewhat concerned.”
However, of those who indicated they were familiar with the issues regarding large livestock facilities, concern was higher with 34 percent indicating they were “very concerned,” compared with only 14 percent being “very concerned” who were not familiar with the issues.
Those who said they were familiar with large-scale livestock farm issues were asked additional questions, including those that revealed strong concern about water quality and rural quality of life.
In addition, 59 percent of these respondents indicated they felt large-scale livestock farms positively contribute to Ohio’s economy.
Also, 48 percent said they felt increased regulation over the farms is needed, but the surveys were conducted during a time when the rules governing Ohio’s large livestock farms was in the midst of change.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture now oversees the farms under a new set of regulations that went into effect in August.
Way of life. Several factors were found to be associated with greater concern among respondents about the rural quality of life and environmental impacts, Sharp said.
Concern was found to be higher among those living in a county with higher livestock sales and among those having a more positive attitude toward an agrarian way of life.
Factors associated with lower concern among respondents included having parents who have owned or operated a farm, having a higher trust in farmers, and living near a large livestock facility.
“That last item seems counter-intuitive, but it may be that there are a large number of Ohioans living near livestock farms who have not had any troubles, after controlling for other possible factors that might influence their attitudes,” Sharp said.
Trusting farmers. Sharp said the survey also found that 59 percent of respondents said they trusted Ohio farmers to protect the environment. However, 29 percent of those respondents were “undecided” on that issue.
“Although we are not able to determine the trend without data from more than one year, I am concerned that the trend may be negative and that agriculture may begin to lose some of the social capital that leads nonfarmers to trust farmers to do the right thing,” Sharp said.
Increased education about agriculture and more networking between farmers and nonfarmers may be one way of reducing concern about agricultural practices and building trust of farmers.
More than 7,300 10-page surveys were delivered to Ohio residents this summer, and 4,020 surveys were returned for a response rate of 56 percent.
The characteristics of survey respondents were similar to characteristics of the adult population as reported in the 2000 Census.
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