2012 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll: Rural issues and quality of life
The Farm Poll routinely asks farmers about quality of life and related issues. Over the three decades of the Farm Poll’s existence, a number of questions have been posed multiple times, which allows us to examine changes in farmer perspectives over time. The 2012 survey asked several such questions focused on issues related to farm profitability and persistence, soil and water conservation, and general socioeconomic conditions.
Issues related to farming and conservation
The profitability and viability of farming have been an important focus of the Farm Poll over the years. Concern about the long-term decline in the number of farms in the state was relatively stable over the first 20 years of the survey, with 83, 78 and 84 percent of farmers indicating that it was an important or very important issue in 1982, 1993, and 2002, respectively (Table 1). In 2012, that statistic dropped substantially, to 64 percent. Similarly, concern about the ability of the next generation to enter farming declined slightly, from 89 percent important or very important in 1982 to 82 percent in 2012.
Concern about several market-related issues has also declined over time. “Loss of competitive markets for farm products” declined from an important/very important rating of over 90 percent in 1993 and 2002, to 64 percent in 2012 (Table 1). Likewise, “overproduction of agricultural products,” which was rated important or very important by 83 percent of farmers in 1982, was rated similarly by only 36 percent of participants in 2012. The proportion of farmers who rate “market concentration among large-scale agribusiness” as an important or very important issue has been relatively stable over the last 20 years, ranging from 74 percent in 1993 to 68 percent in 2012.
The importance placed on soil erosion and water pollution as issues has also declined over the years. In 1982, soil erosion was rated as important or very important by 88 percent of farmers, compared to 63 percent in 2012 (Table 1). The importance rating of water pollution also declined, from 79 percent important or very important in 1982 to 56 percent in 2012.
Several questions that had not been asked since the first year that the Farm Poll was conducted - 1982 - were included in the 2012 survey. Farmers were asked to rate the importance of several socioeconomic issues, including interest rates, inflation and unemployment. At the time the 1982 survey was mailed, the country was at the tail end of a deep recession, the prime interest rate was over 20 percent, the inflation rate was close to six percent, and unemployment was above 10 percent. By comparison, in February 2012 both the prime rate and the inflation rate were close to 3 percent, and the national unemployment rate was 8.3 percent.
Not surprisingly, farmers were significantly less concerned about interest rates and inflation in 2012 than they were in 1982. In 1982, over 90 percent of farmers rated interest rates and inflation as important or very important (Table 1). In 2012, just 50 percent were concerned about inflation and 46 percent expressed concern about interest rates. Although 2012 national unemployment levels were similar to those in 1982, the proportion of farmers who rated it as an important or very important issue in 2012 – 44 percent – was about half the 82 percent who did so in 1982.
Finally, concern about rural crime has declined, from an important/very important rating of 76 percent in 1982 to 41 percent in 2012 (Table 1). Concern about consolidation of rural services has remained steady (around 60 percent important/very important) since 2002, when it was first measured.
Quality of life
Every two years since 1982, the Farm Poll has asked farmers to evaluate changes in quality of life, defined as “the degree of satisfaction with all aspects of life,” for their families and families in their communities. Given the difficult national economic situation over the last several years, the 2012 results were of particular interest.
Ninety-one percent of participants reported that quality of life for their families either stayed the same or improved over the last five years (Table 2). This represents the highest level ever reported in the history of the Farm Poll. Seventy-seven percent indicated that quality of life among families in their communities had either remained the same or improved, also a Farm Poll high. Farmers were also optimistic about the future: 86 percent predicted that quality of life will stay the same or improve for their families over the next five years; 76 percent believed the same about families in their communities; and 65 percent predicted that overall economic prospects for Iowa farmers will remain steady or improve over the same time period.
About the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll
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 partners in the Farm Poll effort.
The 2012 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll summary report (PM 3036) and previous Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll summary and topical reports are available to download from the ISU Extension and Outreach Online Store, and Extension Sociology, http://www.soc.iastate.edu/extension/farmpoll2012.html.
J. Gordon Arbuckle, Jr., extension sociologist, 515-294-1497, firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul Lasley, extension sociologist
John Ferrell, research assistant