Poll: Ag remains a driver of economic well-being for most rural Nebraska
UNL Department of Agricultural Economics
LINCOLN, Neb. — Most rural Nebraskans believe that agriculture is a driver of economic well-being in their households, communities or both, according to the 2020 Nebraska Rural Poll.
Most rural Nebraskans also have deep roots in the state’s agricultural industry, the poll found. Half of those surveyed are one generation or less removed from the farm or ranch, while just 28% of households have no farming or ranching history in the previous four generations. These findings are similar to the 2010 survey.
Four in 10 rural Nebraskans surveyed said their economic well-being is dependent on the success of production agriculture, said Rebecca Vogt, survey manager of the Nebraska Rural Poll, an annual survey of rural Nebraska households conducted each spring. Another 23% of respondents said some of their economic well-being is tied to production agriculture. When looking at animal agriculture in particular, a third of respondents said their economic well-being is dependent on it, and another 23% said it impacts some of their economic well-being.
Furthermore, most rural Nebraskans surveyed say the economic well-being of their community or county is dependent on the success of both production and animal agriculture. Three-quarters said the economic well-being of their community or county is affected by the success of production agriculture in general. In addition, 71% said the economic well-being of their community or county is dependent on animal agriculture in particular.
The importance of agriculture as a driver of personal and community well-being is consistent with the findings of a recent report on the economic impact of the ag sector in Nebraska, said Brad Lubben, extension associate professor and policy specialist at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
“With nearly one in four people across the entire state — metropolitan areas included — employed in ag production or an ag-related profession, it’s obvious that overall well-being and agriculture are tied closely together in Nebraska,” Lubben said. “As the survey results show, even those not directly involved in agriculture connect the success of agriculture to the success of their communities.”
While rural Nebraskans may recognize their connection to agriculture, they may not be as familiar with some ag policies in the state. Many rural Nebraskans surveyed reported they were not familiar with the Livestock Friendly County designation administered by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture and adopted by 50 counties. The voluntary program helps counties and agricultural producers promote the livestock industry and further development and expansion. Only four in 10 respondents reported knowing whether their county was designated as livestock friendly. Thirty-two percent reported being familiar with the designation. Even among people employed in agriculture, only a slight majority (52%) reported they were familiar with the designation and knew the significance.
Overall, though, rural Nebraskans are supportive of new livestock development. Seventy-two percent of respondents agree that encouraging new livestock development is beneficial for their county. A similar proportion, 70%, agree that it is important to have a logical, predictable approval process for new livestock development in their county.
Given that many are unfamiliar with the Livestock Friendly County designation, it is not surprising that opinions were mixed on its impacts. Nineteen percent of respondents agreed with a statement suggesting that the designation would limit local/county control and local input in the process. However, 17% disagreed and 65% neither agreed nor disagreed.
The Livestock Friendly County designation provides counties a way to signal their interest and openness to potential livestock development and provides producers a sign that regulations and decisions on new livestock developments in the county are straightforward and predictable, Lubben said.
“The survey results are consistent with those goals for the Livestock Friendly County policy,” he said. “However, the policy doesn’t eliminate local control of the decision, nor does it eliminate some of the ongoing challenges for large-scale animal agriculture.”
The 2020 poll was mailed to 7,000 rural households across the state in April. It is the largest annual poll of rural Nebraskans’ perceptions on quality of life and policy issues. This year’s response rate was 33%. The margin of error is plus-or-minus 2%. Complete results are available at http://ruralpoll.unl.edu. The university’s Department of Agricultural Economics conducts the poll with funding from Nebraska Extension and Rural Prosperity Nebraska. ❖