In Iowa, some farmers see changing climate

Nov 13, 2011

By Kathleen Masterson (Harvest Public Media)

Running a successful farm business relies on hard work, good soil and seeds and, most of all, weather. So it makes sense that many farmers have real concerns about climate change. 

Nearly two-thirds of Iowa farmers believe climate change is real and more than 60 percent say farmers should take additional steps to protect their land from increased rainfall. This data come from this year's Iowa State University Extension Farm and Rural Life poll; for the first time the survey included questions about attitudes toward climate change.

The survey found that 68 percent of Iowa farmers believe climate change is occurring, which is consistent with  national data about the general population's beliefs.

Historically, some farm groups have resisted the idea of climate change, said J. Arbuckle, a sociologist at Iowa State University.

"We've seen a change recently with some of the major weather events that we've seen over the last few years," Arbuckle said. "I think that even some of the farm groups are coming around to believe that something is happening and that we probably better think about adapting."

Still, only 10 percent of farmers said they believe climate change is caused mostly by human activities, even though that is the consensus in the scientific community. 

Interestingly enough, these farmers who cited human activity as the main cause of climate change were far more likely to be concerned about its potential impact on Iowa's agriculture.  Of those who attributed it to mostly human causes, 90 percent were concerned about effects on farming. Yet of those who said climate change was driven mostly by  natural causes, only 38 percent were concerned for agriculture.

The poll surveyed more than 1,000 farmers. They're mostly male and have an average age of 65.

Iowa State researchers hope to use the data to better understand where farmers are coming from, Arbuckle said.

"Our hope is to work with farmers to help them increase the resiliency of their cropping systems," Arbuckle said. "We're already seeing more extreme weather at very inconvenient times of the year for agriculture -- a lot of rain when we don't have a whole lot of canopy cover over the soil."

Arbuckle is working with an interdisciplinary team of researchers from universities across the corn belt. The USDA-funded project is focusing on helping row crop agriculture mitigate and adapt to climate change.  Arbuckle said he plans to use the same questions in a larger poll of farmers across the Midwest.