2013 Farm Poll Examines Climate Change and Agriculture

2013 Farm and Rural Life PollAMES, Iowa — Drought, extreme rains and flooding over the past five years have had the greatest influence on farmers’ beliefs about climate change, according to the 2013 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll.

This year’s version of the annual survey once again took a close look at climate change and agriculture. It repeated questions that were first asked in 2011 to track changes in farmers’ beliefs about whether climate change is occurring, and if so, what the causes might be, said J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr., a sociologist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Arbuckle co-directs the annual poll with Paul Lasley, also an ISU Extension and Outreach sociologist.

Arbuckle said 1,209 farmers participated in the 2013 Farm Poll and on average they were 65 years old. Because the Farm Poll is a panel survey, in which the same farmers participate in multiple years, participants are somewhat older on average than the general farmer population. Fifty-two percent earned more than half of their income from farming, while an additional 17 percent earned between 26 and 50 percent of their household income from the farm operation.

Changes from 2011 to 2013

This year’s Farm Poll asked questions regarding climate change beliefs, concerns about weather-related threats to agriculture and attitudes regarding different types of potential responses to increasing weather variability. Several of the questions also had been included in the 2011 survey, allowing the researchers to compare data from both years.

“There were some substantial shifts that occurred between 2011 and 2013," Arbuckle said. "The proportion of farmers who believed that climate change is occurring and due primarily to human activities increased from 11 percent to 16 percent, while the percentage who indicated that there is not enough evidence to know with certainty that climate change is occurring dropped from 27 percent to 23 percent.”

Arbuckle said that there were only slight changes, one or two percentage points, in the other categories: that climate change is caused mostly by natural changes in the environment, it’s caused more or less equally by natural changes and human activities, or it isn’t occurring at all.

Weather, Insects, Other Concerns

“We asked farmers to rate the influence that several factors might have had on their beliefs about climate change over the past five years. Forty-nine percent of farmers indicated that drought had been a moderate or strong influence on their beliefs about climate change, and 41 percent expressed the same about extreme rains and flooding,” Arbuckle continued.

“I kind of expected that. Iowa has experienced numerous weather extremes over the last several years, with excessive rain, floods, drought and temperature volatility leading to significant impacts on agricultural productivity," he said.

"Extreme weather events are predicted to become more common in Iowa and across the Corn Belt in the future,” Arbuckle said. “Scientists are predicting that climate change will have a number of negative impacts on Iowa agriculture, so we also asked farmers the degree to which they are concerned about some of those potential impacts.”

At the time of the survey, February 2013, all of Iowa was considered to be in moderate to extreme drought.

"Not surprisingly, two-thirds of farmers rated 'longer dry periods and drought' as their highest concern,” said Arbuckle. “Farmers are definitely worried about some of the impacts that scientists are predicting for Iowa.”

Sixty percent indicated they were concerned or very concerned about increased insect pressure and soil erosion. Similar percentages were concerned or very concerned about increases in heat stress on crops (59 percent), weed pressure (58 percent) and crop diseases (56 percent).

Farmers were less concerned about some water-related threats. Forty-nine percent were concerned or very concerned about increases in loss of nutrients into waterways. More frequent extreme rains was a concern for 44 percent, 33 percent had concerns about saturated soils and 25 percent had concerns about flooding.

Nearly half of farmers in both surveys agreed or strongly agreed that extreme weather events will happen more frequently in the future. Forty-four percent of the respondents in both years agreed that they were concerned about the potential impacts of climate change on their farm operations. Disagreement declined from 27 to 22 percent, and uncertainty increased from 29 to 34 percent.

“The potential long-term impacts of climate change on food production are significant. Scientists and other stakeholders in the ag community believe that our agricultural systems must become more resilient to ensure long-term food security,” Arbuckle said. “Many farmers are concerned and support taking action to meet that goal.”

About the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll

In addition to climate change, the 2013 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll asked for farmers’ opinions on rented land, herbicide resistant weeds, Bt-resistant corn rootworm, and soil health and compaction.

The 2013 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll summary report (PM 3061) and previous Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll summary and topical reports are available to download from the ISU Extension and Outreach Online Store, https://store.extension.iastate.edu/, and Extension Sociology, http://www.soc.iastate.edu/extension/ifrlp/about.html.  

Conducted every year since its establishment in 1982, the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll is the longest-running survey of its kind in the nation. 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.