Farm Poll Examines Where, How Farmers Get Their Information

February 26, 2013, 4:35 pm | J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr., Laura Sternweis

AMES, Iowa — Iowa farmers rely primarily on agribusinesses, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and state agencies for their information needs, according to the 2012 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll.

The annual poll surveyed 1,296 farmers about the information sources they rely on when making decisions that affect their farm operations, 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.

“Farmers can choose from many sources to get the information they need to make decisions. We wanted to find out who they go to first for information on specific agricultural topics,” Arbuckle said.

“We’ve asked similar questions in previous surveys, and results show that ISU Extension and Outreach continues to be among farmers’ ‘go to’ information sources. We also asked farmers to tell us how they prefer to receive ISU Extension information and educational programming that supports their farming and farm management decisions,” Arbuckle said.

Primary Sources of Information

Farmers were asked to select the category of information provider that they would go to first when seeking information on crop production, nutrient management, pest and disease management, conservation, finances and marketing, Arbuckle explained. For each topic, farmers could choose fertilizer or agricultural chemical dealers, seed dealers, USDA/NRCS/SWCD service centers, private crop consultants, ISU Extension and Outreach, commodity associations and “other.”

For crop production — including corn production, soybean production and seed selection — seed dealers were the first choice for a plurality of farmers. A majority of farmers selected fertilizer or agricultural chemical dealers as their primary source of crop disease, insect and weed management information. Fertilizer or agricultural chemical dealers also were selected as the preferred provider of information on fertilizer application rates and nutrient management.

USDA/NRCS/SWCD service centers were designated as the preferred resource for information for both conservation tillage and soil and water conservation in general. Responses for farm financial management and marketing showed that many farmers did not select any of the listed entities as their primary information source, with 57 percent selecting other.

“Extension and Outreach ranked second or third in all categories, with the highest percentages being for pest and disease management, conservation, and farm financial management. Overall, 54 percent of farmers indicated that they would go to Extension first for at least one category of information. That said, chances are that much of the information farmers are receiving from other sources is based to some extent on Iowa State research,” Arbuckle said.

Partnerships with Stakeholders

“ISU Extension and Outreach delivers science-based agricultural information both directly to farmers and through key agricultural stakeholders who also have contact with farmers. Agribusinesses, crop consultants, commodity groups, state agencies and other ag information providers rely heavily on Iowa State research and extension information as they formulate their technical assistance recommendations for farmers,” Arbuckle said.

“These partnerships help us make sure that farmers are able to base their decisions on current research. The bottom line is that together we are able to place science-based information in the hands of more farmers across the state,” he added. Arbuckle said the Farm Poll results demonstrate the value of this approach.

Preferences for ISU Extension Information

The 2012 Farm Poll also asked farmers how they preferred to receive information from ISU Extension and Outreach. For each of several topics they could choose from a list ranging from field days and workshops to webcasts and apps. Farmers were asked to check all that applied.

“In general, results indicate that farmers are fairly diverse in their preferences. Traditional, in-person events such as field days and meetings were the most popular means of delivery for most types of information. However, substantial numbers of farmers expressed preference for electronic distribution of materials and programming through online videos, webcasts and downloaded publications. Very few, however, selected smartphone or tablet apps,” Arbuckle said.

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 all 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.


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