AMES, Iowa – Many Iowa farmers are concerned about the potential impacts of climate change on agriculture, but opinions differ about the causes and questions remain about how to address the issue, according to the 2011 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll.
Results from the annual poll are available in the 2011 Summary Report, PM 3016, which can be downloaded at no cost from the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Online Store, www.extension.iastate.edu/store/.
“In the past several years, extreme weather events in Iowa and across the Midwest have led to discussions about climate change and its potential impacts on agriculture,” said ISU Extension Sociologist J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr., who co-directs the survey with ISU Extension Sociologist Paul Lasley. “We wanted to understand Iowa farmers’ perspectives on this issue.”
The 2011 poll measured beliefs about whether climate change is occurring, possible causes, potential impacts and appropriate responses from the private and public sectors. Farmers also were asked to rate their level of trust or distrust toward specific agencies, organizations or groups as sources of information on climate change.
Arbuckle said 1,276 farmers participated in the poll. On average, the participating farmers were 65 years old, and 51 percent earned more than half of their income from farming.
Beliefs and concerns about climate change
Overall, 68 percent of farmers indicated that they believe climate change is occurring, Arbuckle said. Of those, 35 percent believed that climate change is caused by both natural variations in the environment and human activities. About a quarter of farmers attributed climate change to natural changes in the environment, and 10 percent believed that it is caused mostly by human activities.
“A number of farmers expressed uncertainty or skepticism about climate change. Twenty-eight percent indicated that there is insufficient evidence to determine with certainty whether climate change is occurring or not. Five percent did not believe that climate change is occurring,” Arbuckle said.
More than 40 percent of farmers expressed concern about the potential impacts of climate change on Iowa agriculture, and almost half believe that extreme weather events will happen more frequently in the future, Arbuckle continued. “However, there is also a lot of uncertainty about these issues.”
Potential responses to climate change
In general, farmers appeared to favor individual and private sector responses to the threat of climate change over response by the public sector, Arbuckle said.
“For example 62 percent indicated that seed companies should develop crop varieties adapted to changes in weather patterns. Sixty-one percent agreed that farmers should take steps to protect their land from increases in precipitation, and 46 percent indicated farmers should increase investment in agricultural drainage systems,” Arbuckle said. “On the other hand, farmers were more uncertain on whether public entities such as state agencies should take steps to address climate change.”
Trust in sources of climate information
Farmers also were asked to rate a list of agencies, organizations and individuals regarding how much they did or did not trust them as sources of information about climate change and its potential impacts.
“Of the groups listed, only university extension was trusted by a majority of farmers. At 54 percent, extension was a more trusted source of climate change information than any other individual or entity,” Arbuckle said.
The mainstream news media and radio talk show hosts were the least trusted groups: less than 10 percent of farmers trust them as sources of information about climate change, while about 60 percent distrust them, Arbuckle noted.
More about the Farm and Rural Life Poll
The 2011 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll focused on a range of issues that are important not only to agriculture but to all Iowans, Arbuckle said. The 2011 survey also examined farmers’ views on conservation issues, investment in agricultural drainage, use of the Internet, and their perspectives on reducing the federal deficit and balancing the budget.
Conducted every year since its establishment in 1982, the Farm and Rural Life Poll is the longest-running survey of its kind in the nation, Arbuckle said. ISU Extension and Outreach, the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and the Iowa Agricultural Statistics Service are all partners in the Farm Poll effort.
The 2011 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll summary report and previous summary and topical reports are available to download from the ISU Extension and Outreach Online Store (www.extension.iastate.edu/store/) and Extension Sociology (www.soc.iastate.edu/extension/farmpoll.html).
Source: Iowa State University