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2009 Farm and Rural Life Poll: Mixed livestock and grain farming*

AgDM Newsletter
May 2010

The Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll is an annual survey that collects and disseminates information on issues of importance to rural communities across Iowa and the Midwest. Conducted every year since its establishment in 1982, the Farm Poll is the longest-running survey of its kind in the nation. This article highlights information from the 2009 survey on mixed livestock and grain farming.

Mixed livestock and grain farming

Over the last several decades, Iowa farmers have increasingly shifted from mixed grain and livestock operations to specialized grain production. In 1989, 64 percent of Farm Poll participants raised both grain and livestock, 31 percent specialized in crop production only and three percent produced only livestock. By 2009, the percentage of farmers with mixed crop and livestock farming systems had dropped to 42 percent, with 50 percent producing only row crops and slightly over one percent specializing in livestock. The 2009 Farm Poll investigated potential reasons behind this long-term shift away from mixed systems and toward specialized operations.

Several items received near unanimous endorsement as factors related to the decline in mixed grain and livestock farming. At the top of the list, with 92 percent agreement, was the statement “As farmers age, working with livestock becomes more difficult” (table 1). A second item related to the work involved in production processes, “Livestock production requires more labor than grain production,” drew 91 percent agreement among participants. The average age of Iowa farmers has risen steadily over the last decades and continues to rise, so these responses both make sense and merit attention.

Table 1

Other factors, including displacement by grain farming, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and recreation, also loomed large in farmers’ assessments of the decline in mixed grain and livestock production systems. Ninety-one percent of farmers agreed that “increased grain production has displaced pasture and hay acreage” (table 1). Recent changes in land rental rates were also implicated, with 84 percent agreeing that higher rents have led to reductions in acreage available for grazing and haying. Sixty-four percent of participants agreed that the CRP has displaced pasture and hay acreage, and 51 percent agreed that conversion of farms to recreational and hunting land has led to a decline in land available for pasture and hay.

Substantial percentages of participants indicated that policy and market effects have also played a role in the decline of mixed systems. While 78 percent of participants agreed that mixed livestock and grain farms can better manage risk than specialized operations, 73 percent believed that commodity programs favor grain production over livestock or mixed grain-livestock systems, and 59 percent agreed that the profitability of livestock production has declined relative to grain production (table 1). Thirty-nine percent agreed that the costs of production systems are so high that producers have to choose between grain and livestock systems.

Survey information

Iowa State University Extension, the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station, and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship are partners in the Farm Poll effort. The information gathered through the Farm Poll is used to inform the development and improvement of research and extension programs and is used by local, state and national leaders in their decision-making processes. We thank the many farmers who responded to this year’s survey and appreciate their continued participation in the Farm Poll.

Who participates?

The 2009 Farm Poll questionnaires were mailed in January and February to a statewide panel of 2,201 farm operators. Usable surveys were received from 1,268 farmers, resulting in a 58 percent response rate. On average, Farm Poll participants were 64 years old, and had been farming for 39 years. Fifty percent of farmers reported that farm income made up more than half of their overall 2008 household income, and an additional 20 percent earned between 26 and 50 percent of their household income from farming. Copies of this or any other year’s reports are available from your local county Extension office, the ISU Extension Online Store (www.extension.iastate.edu/store), ISU Extension Sociology (www.soc.iastate.edu/extension/ifrlp/about.html), or from the authors.

*Reprinted with permission from the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll, 2009 Summary Report, PM 2093. Renea Miller provided valuable layout assistance to the questionnaire and this report. The Iowa Department of Land Stewardship, Division of Statistics, assisted in the data collection.


J. Gordon Arbuckle, Jr., extension sociologist, 515-294-1497, arbuckle@iastate.edu
Paul Lasley, extension sociologist
Peter Korsching, professor
Chris Kast, research assistant