The Agriculture Council of America surveyed 2,500 shoppers in 16 major cities across the country late last year and came away with some results that surprised even them.

The purpose of the survey was to find out how consumers felt about producers and the results were heartening to the farmers. But what is even more interesting is how consumers felt about the food as it finally arrived at their tables. Not very good, according to their answers.

Half of the respondents were dissatisfied with the quality and nutritional value of the food.

85 per cent were unhappy with the list of food.

86 per cent would like to be able to purchase more things in bulk and have less convenience packaging and preparation.

89 per cent think direct farmer-to-consumer marketing programs would be a good idea.

73 per cent would like to see more price competition in food processing and retailing.

The chairman of the Agriculture Council, Dale Hendricks, told a press conference last week that " . . . there was a lot of 'finger-pointing' by consumers who blamed anonymous 'middlemen' and agribusiness," but he said, "I want to make it clear that our purpose isn't to blame anyone for the problems - we are here to work constructively to find areas where meaningful action can be taken."

While 58 per cent of the respondents favored farm exports, only 43 per cent said the decision to restrict farm exports should be made by farmers.

They believe by an overwhelming majority, 70 per cent, that increased government expenditures are appropriate for strengthening family-owned farms; 79 per cent said that having a large number of family-owned farms is in the consumer's best interest.

A whopping 81 per cent of those who answered the survey said they did not feel they were adequately represented in decisions that affect food and almost that many, 79 per cent, felt that the interests of consumers and farmers are similar enough to warrant joint action to improve the food system.

The Agriculture Council sent farm families into large cities from coast to coast to meet with urban dwellers and hand out the questionnaires in super markets and shopping centers; 20,000 of them were distributed. The 2,500 that were completed and mailed represents a 12.5 per cent response, which is considered an extremely high return rate for this kind of survey. The usual return is 1 to 3 per cent.

The council, which has headquarters here, is made up of individual farmers, agribusiness organizations and companies that supply goods to farmers.