Romney, the former Massachusetts Governor, swept Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, solidifying his front-runner status. Farmers at the conference expressed admiration for Santorum and former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich but said they viewed Romney as the inevitable winner.
"He's probably the last guy standing," said Gale Koelling of Illinois, who said he planned to vote for Romney. He said he likes Santorum but doubts the former Pennsylvania senator will last long past New Hampshire.
Santorum, Gingrich, Texas Governor Rick Perry and others hope a strong showing in the upcoming South Carolina primary will keep their candidacies alive.
Gingrich finished third in the farm survey, with 18.8 percent, followed by Perry with 9.3 percent and Representative Ron Paul with 6 percent.
Farmers in the survey also said they thought Republicans should control the U.S. Congress, although participants did not echo the anti-incumbent sentiment that has been talked about in the lead up to November.
About 77 percent of farmers said they think Republicans should control Congress. Fourteen percent said they did not know who should have power and 5 percent said they would prefer Democrats in Congress.
Republicans won power in the House of Representatives in a 2010 mid-term election strongly influenced by Tea Party activity and anger at Obama over the economy and health reform. The party now has set its sights on the U.S. Senate, which Democrats control by a narrow margin, in 2012.
"Republicans did a horrible job when they had control, but I think they're the lesser of two evils," said Mills, the Virginia farmer. "I think the entire spending structure of the government is going to have to be addressed."
The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements, coupled with abysmally low approval ratings for Congress in 2011, have led experts to predict voters could throw incumbents out of office.
The failure of the deficit-reducing "supercommittee" and a stalemate on a payroll tax cut hurt voters' opinion of Congress.
Farmers in the survey did not support this prediction, with 56.1 percent of survey participants saying they plan to vote for their current representatives to return to Congress. Twenty-five percent said they would not vote for incumbents, and 19 percent did not know or did not respond to the question.
"I don't think, as a whole, politicians are doing that bad a job," said Shawn Harding of Chocowinity, N.C., even though he said he has never voted for his congressman, Democrat G.K. Butterfield, and will not vote for him in November.
"The American people think they can just go up there and snap their fingers and create jobs, and it just doesn't work like that," Harding said. (Reporting By Emily Stephenson; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)