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Poll: Rural Nebraskans still tied to agriculture

Nebraska

More than half of rural Nebraskans are one generation or less removed from farming or ranching, and more than three-fourths say their economic well-being is at least somewhat tied to agriculture, according to the 2010 Nebraska Rural Poll.

The 14-page survey, conducted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was sent to 6,500 households in 84 non-metropolitan counties last March and April. Results are based on 2,797 responses.

U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show a consistent trend in recent years: The number of agriculture-dependent counties is dropping nationwide. Against that backdrop, the Rural Poll team was interested in getting rural Nebraskans' perceptions of how tied they are to agriculture.

"We have this notion that we live in this agricultural state and everybody knows it, and we have this historical and emotional attachment to agriculture, and that none of us are very far removed from that," said Randy Cantrell, a rural sociologist with the UNL-based Nebraska Rural Initiative.

It turns out that in Nebraska that perception is fairly accurate.

Fifty-two percent of respondents said they were one generation or less removed from the farm or ranch, and two-thirds are two generations or less removed. The other one-third of respondents said they were three generations or more removed.

"Two-thirds have some direct experience of what the farm looks like. They worked it, they grew up on it, or they visited their grandparents on it," said Brad Lubben, UNL public policy specialist.

"Over time this obviously will trend away," Cantrell said. "But for now, it's quite strong."

Fifty-four percent of rural Nebraskans said their economic well-being is very dependent on the well-being of agriculture; another 24 percent said it's somewhat dependent. Together, that's 78 percent of respondents who see a link between agriculture's well-being and theirs.

That link to agriculture is "not just because people can look out their windows and see it's there, but because of their position in the economy," Cantrell said.

Rural Nebraskans who live in or near smaller communities feel that tie more strongly. About 62 percent of respondents in or near communities of fewer than 5,000 people said they were very dependent on agriculture, compared to 43 percent of those living in or near communities of 10,000 or more.

About 48 percent of poll respondents said they are currently involved in agriculture.

The poll also explored the priorities rural Nebraskans place on four competing demands for agriculture--commercial food production, community/local food systems, bioenergy and renewable energy production and environmental goods and services. Respondents said they expect all four to be important to the future of Nebraska agriculture: 81 percent cited food production; 80 percent community/local food systems; 78 percent bioenergy/biofuels; and 77 percent environmental goods and services.

"The surprise is that everything is important. Rural Nebraskans expect us to address all of them," Cantrell said.

"And while there may be trade-offs between competing demands, rural Nebraskans clearly put a priority on all of them. Agriculture's challenge is in addressing all of these demands simultaneously," Lubben added.

When they shop for food, the poll shows, rural Nebraskans rate product quality/freshness, price and nutritional value as the most important attributes; those qualities were mentioned, respectively, by 94, 91 and 87 percent of respondents.

Other attributes, including where and how the food was grown, also are important, but less so. Seventy-nine percent said it was important to them that the food was grown in the United States, and 65 percent said it was important that their food purchase support a small family farm. Only 23 percent said it was important that the food be certified organic. Fifty-two percent said it was important that the food come from animals that were humanely raised.

Other findings:

--Eighty-six percent said government support and incentives for alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power should be increased. Forty-two percent endorsed increased support and incentives for nuclear power, and 39 percent for traditional sources such as oil, gas and coal.

--Eighty-eight percent agreed that investment in alternative energy sources is needed to meet future energy needs. Nearly three-fourths endorsed investing in those sources now even if it's more expensive in the short term.

--Ninety percent said their household should conserve energy use to decrease dependence on foreign energy sources. Eighty-five percent said energy use should be reduced to protect the environment, and 80 percent said energy should be conserved for future generations.

The Rural Poll is the largest annual poll of rural Nebraskans' perceptions on quality of life and policy issues. This year's response rate was about 43 percent. The margin of error is plus or minus three percent. Complete results are available online at http://cari.unl.edu/ruralpoll.

The university's Center for Applied Rural Innovation conducts the poll in cooperation with the Nebraska Rural Initiative with funding from UNL Extension and the Agricultural Research Division in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.



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