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Survey: Agriculture, natural resources leaders’ concerns about COVID-19 lie in elements outside their control

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In a new survey conducted by University of Florida researchers, agriculture and natural resources leaders indicated most of their concerns regarding the pandemic were in areas they couldn’t control, such as their state’s economy and other people receiving accurate information about COVID-19.

The survey, designed by a team of researchers at the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education in Agriculture and Natural Resources (PIE Center), was conducted March 13 through April 21 via the online survey tool Qualtrics. The 225 participants were recruited through the International Association of Programs for Agricultural Leadership (IAPAL) and represented eight states: Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, New York and South Carolina.

“By getting this information from industry thought leaders – especially the larger response rate from populous states like New York and California, where the crisis was really being felt at the time of the survey, and of course, Florida – we feel we were able to get a benchmark of the pulse in these communities during the pandemic,” said Lauri Baker, an associate professor of agricultural communications and affiliate faculty of the PIE Center.

She also noted that opinion leaders tend to follow the news more closely and are generally more engaged in their state economies and legislative processes, which could account for the 97.8% of respondents who indicated concern for their state’s economy.

More than half of the participants were business owners, which prompted them to complete a unique set of questions regarding concerns for their operations and employee and customer safety.

“The most interesting piece related to the business owner responses was they were most worried about the things that were out of their control,” Baker said. “Ninety percent were concerned for their businesses’ bottom line; they were concerned whether others were getting accurate information; they were concerned that others they came into contact with weren’t taking appropriate precautions. The pieces that were related directly to management decisions for their business were of less – although still some – concern, like the ability to provide a safe environment for their customers and employees at their businesses.”

Among all respondents, labor shortage concerns (89.3%) came through as another trend, although Baker notes this is a common concern for those in this sector even outside of the current pandemic time. Their concerns did not extend as dramatically to whether food costs would increase (54.7%), though, which could be attributed to this sample set’s familiarity with contributing factors to the stability of the country’s food supply.

This survey followed a nationally representative public opinion survey the PIE Center conducted March 13-16. A follow-up to the public opinion survey is currently underway.

“I think the one theme we saw in the public opinion survey that carried through into this one was that people are expressing more concern about others than themselves during this difficult time,” Baker said. “That’s certainly a positive aspect we’ve captured in both surveys regarding the pandemic’s effects.”

“We would have liked to see more responses from the ANR leaders,” Baker continued, “but we also recognize that this is a difficult time to be asking people in these sectors to make time to complete a survey when they’re already trying to adapt to the situation.”

The PIE Center’s reports are posted on its dedicated COVID-19 website, piecenter.com/covid-19, as completed. The researchers involved in the agriculture and natural resources leadership survey will also host a webinar on May 6 at 2 p.m. to discuss the data that has been analyzed so far. A recording of the webinar will be posted later on the PIE Center’s COVID-19 website.

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.
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