When asked to name a car that most resembled the crisis-hit ministry, focus groups opted for the three-wheeled vehicle beloved of stand-up comics and Del Boy Trotter.
An organisation that presided over the BSE scandal was never going to be regarded as a Rolls-Royce or a Lamborghini, but civil servants had hoped that it could at least make a comfortable family saloon.
The survey, carried out by MORI and obtained by The Independent, shows that the ministry is perceived as uncommunicative, backward-looking, slow and bureaucratic.
Just 20 per cent of farmers described the ministry as "efficient", while just 6 per cent of the wider public thought that it was "competent".
But the severest criticism came from academics, food industry chiefs and other key "opinion leaders", including a farming adviser to the BBC's The Archers.
When asked to pick a car, any car, the group said that Maff most resembled "a clapped-out Morris Minor and a Robin Reliant".
The study quotes one member of the group as saying: "Scientists acting as politicians and politicians running around as scientists has been disastrous".
Another said: "I am so angry with MAFF because of the BSE crisis where there was a possibility of a half a million dead bodies. I went to bed for a few nights just trying to think through the sheer irresponsibility of putting the public in this situation."
The study is one of a series ordered by ministers soon after the general election to assess the performance and reputation of individual departments.
The research, which was fiercely opposed by civil servants, was based on focus group techniques used successfully by Labour in opposition.