U.S. dairies owners overwhelmingly prefer to be called “farmers” as opposed to “producers.” That’s according to recent online and phone surveys conducted by Progressive Dairyman. Readers said they prefer the term farmer as a description of their work four to one.

Cooley walt polo
Editor and Podcast Host / Progressive Dairy

“Producer seems to take away the land and animal care part of a dairy. It sounds more like a factory. We always introduce ourselves as dairy farmers,” one reader from Pennsylvania with 100-plus cows said.

Beginning in March, Progressive Dairyman asked readers: “Which would you prefer to be called: dairy producer or dairy farmer?” More than 800 responses were collected online and over the phone from March through May 2017.

Readers surveyed over the phone could indicate if they had no preference for either title. Nearly 14 percent of participants on the phone said they had no preference. Participation in the online survey implied a preference as the online poll only offered the responses “farmer” or “producer” as options.

Which would you prefer to be called: dairy producer or dairy farmer?

Dairies who preferred to be called producers noted the term sounded more “professional” or more “technical.” Others said they did not farm any ground and thus calling themselves a “farmer” seemed misleading.


Interestingly, dairies with more than 1,000 cows preferred the term “producer” more than dairies of a smaller size. Fifty-five percent of large herds surveyed said they prefer to be called “producer.”

“There is tremendous brand equity in the term farmer, which resonates strongly with consumers,” says Stan Erwin, vice president of farmer activation for Dairy Management Inc. “We began to walk away from using ‘farmer’ in the late 1980s as we were hearing from ‘experts’ telling us we were food producers and not farmers. That was agriculture polishing its image and not something that we did based on consumer research. We know that consumers do not prefer terms such as ‘processed,’ and producer is linked to that word, and special interest groups can take that term to insinuate factory or industrial farming. This takes people away from the true source of their milk and the values of hard work, resourcefulness and commitment to stewardship found at the family dairy farm.”

Phone respondents' preferences

Some thought the poll question was altogether extraneous.

“This sounds like something a liberal would ask. You’re just splitting hairs,” said one reader in Michigan with more than 500 cows.

Another reader from Illinois with 200-plus cows said he didn’t have a preference what others called him but to just make sure to “Call me for supper!”  end mark

Walt Cooley