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Published August 10, 2010, 08:40 AM

Survey: Many Chicagoans see seed source signs as indication of corporate ownership

VAIL, Colo. — Those seed company signs that proudly proclaim the source of seed for the crops growing on farmers’ fields make urban Americans think that the farm is owned by a seed corporation and may be damaging the image of family farming, an Illinois Farm Bureau survey of Chicagoans has found.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

VAIL, Colo. — Those seed company signs that proudly proclaim the source of seed for the crops growing on farmers’ fields make urban Americans think that the farm is owned by a seed corporation and may be damaging the image of family farming, an Illinois Farm Bureau survey of Chicagoans has found.

In a speech to the American Sugar Alliance International Sweetener Symposium Aug. 2, American Farm Bureau Federation Washington lobbyist Mary Kay Thatcher said that the survey of 2,000 Chicagoans for their views on farming found that more than 50 percent of respondents think that farms are corporately owned. When asked how they reached that conclusion when most farms are family owned, the respondents said they saw the seed signs and assumed that the corporations owned the land as well as provide the seed. The impression is important, Thatcher said, because 76 respondents said that they trust family farms, but only 15 percent have a favorable view of corporate farms.

Thatcher said the image of farming is important in writing the farm bill and that farmers should think about whether they want to remove those signs from their property.

“If we can change impressions by doing something that simple, I think farmers have to consider it,” she said.

One sugar beet farmer at the meeting said that when he has a beautiful crop, the salesman who sold him the seed sees it and asks to put up a sign.

Thatcher said the Illinois Farm Bureau study showed that the way that city and suburban people interact the most with farmers is through farmers markets, that driving by a farm is second in how they form impressions and the third is through friends who are farmers.

According to USDA the number of farmers markets nationwide has grown to 6,132 and that there are 286 farmers markets in Illinois. Thatcher noted that shoppers learn a lot about fruits and vegetables and organic and local production at farmers markets, but not about commodities such as corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton.

Thatcher said that, while the Illinois study was limited to the Chicago area, she thinks the views that Chicagoans expressed probably are similar to those of urban and suburban residents in other parts of the country.

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