Md. consumers found to prefer produce grown in state

The Baltimore Sun

The Maryland consumer may be the farmer's best friend.

The consumer's preference is to buy produce grown by Maryland farmers, and many grocery shoppers say they would be willing to pay more for local fruits and vegetables.

These are a couple of the findings related to agriculture from the recent annual statewide public opinion survey by the University of Baltimore's Schaefer Center for Public Policy.

Slightly more than 75 percent of adults surveyed said they would be more likely to buy produce that is identified as having been grown by Maryland farmers.

That is a substantial increase over last year's survey, which showed that 57 percent of the consumers expressed a desire to purchase homegrown farm products.

Nineteen percent said it would not matter whether corn came from Iowa, chicken from Georgia or tomatoes from California.

Only 3 percent said they would be less likely to buy groceries identified as having been grown by state farmers.

Not quite half the respondents - 48 percent - expressed a willingness to pay at least some premium for farm products that would support state farmers. Forty-two percent said they would pay 1 percent to 20 percent more for local produce, while 6 percent said they would be willing to pay 20 percent or more for state-grown farm products.

The center said the survey was based on telephone interviews with 810 randomly selected residents from across Maryland. The margin of error was 3.44 percentage points.

The gist of the agriculture-related responses was good news for Maryland farmers, said Gov. Martin O'Malley.

"It shows a positive consumer attitude with great potential for local farm products and an understanding by Marylanders that farms and agricultural products are an important part of our culture and economy," the governor said.

When asked how important it is for the state government to work to preserve land for farming, 96 percent of those surveyed said it was at least somewhat important. This was up from 88 percent last year.

Seventy-three percent said it was very important, and 3 percent thought it was not very important.

Roadside farm stands and farmers' markets are popular with consumers, with 82 percent of the respondents saying they had visited each in the past year. Pick-your-own farms attracted 32 percent of the consumers. There are about 73 farmers markets throughout Maryland, state agriculture officials said.

The survey also found that residents are concerned about the environment, including pollution threats to the Chesapeake Bay.

Respondents were read a list of possible threats to the bay and asked whether they thought each item had a major impact, a minor impact or not much of an impact on the health of the bay.

A large majority of the respondents - 88 percent - picked industrial discharge and sewage treatment as posing the most serious threat to the bay.

Farm runoff (65 percent), growth and development (63 percent), and storm runoff from urban areas (52 percent) also ranked high as threats.

"There is nothing more important to a farmer than healthy, productive land and water," state Agriculture Secretary Roger L. Richardson said in a statement.

"Farmers can't make a living or provide the healthy food, scenic views and strong quality of life that consumers want if they don't protect our natural resource," Richardson said.

The state Agriculture Department is using the survey results to persuade supermarkets to stock more local produce.

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