What’s in a Name? 2011 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll Shows Most Farmers Prefer to Be Called Farmers



AMES, Iowa -- Many terms are used to refer to people who farm. But how do the people who farm describe themselves? The 2011 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll sought an answer to that question.

“The agricultural press, agribusiness professionals, university scientists, extension professionals and others commonly use descriptive words such as grower, producer and farmer interchangeably,” said J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr., a sociologist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Arbuckle co-directs the annual Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll with Paul Lasley, another ISU Extension and Outreach sociologist.

J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr.“I had often wondered what farmers thought about these terms, so this year we decided to ask the people who produce food, fiber and energy what they prefer to be called,” Arbuckle explained.

Farmers were asked to review a short list of commonly used terms that refer to people who farm and select the term they thought best described them, Arbuckle said.

“Sixty percent of the participants selected the term ‘farmer’ to describe themselves,” Arbuckle said. “The proportion who preferred the term farmer was triple the number who selected two other commonly used labels: 18 percent chose the term ‘producer’ and another 18 percent selected ‘farm operator.’

“I work with a lot of agricultural scientists who seem to favor the term ‘grower,’” Arbuckle noted. “It turned out that only 3 percent of Iowa farmers preferred that word. Just 1 percent of Farm Poll participants chose ‘rancher.’

“People who preferred the terms farmer, producer, and farm operator were very similar in terms of farm sales and acreage cropped,” Arbuckle said. “Farmers who preferred producer were slightly younger and more educated than the other two categories.”

Growers tended to be smaller in scale. “Growers had an average of 160 acres in row crops, compared to an average of 375 acres across the other three groups,” noted Arbuckle. “Ranchers, as you might expect, were much more likely to raise livestock, and had significantly more land in pasture and hay.”

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, store.extension.iastate.edu.

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.

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 climate change, conservation issues, Internet use and investment in agricultural drainage, 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 (store.extension.iastate.edu) and Extension Sociology (www.soc.iastate.edu/extension/farmpoll.html).

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[PHOTO] -- J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr.