Iowa: Farmer Thoughts on Climate Change

by Caroline Vurlumis

Agriculture is being threatened by climate change and yet feeds this threat by emitting greenhouse gases itself. In Iowa, the site of some of the most productive land in the world, a survey investigated farmer perceptions of climate change and their response to altering farming practices. The two major research questions Arbuckle et al. (2013) investigated were: 1. Do farmers support adaptation and mitigation actions and 2. Do beliefs and concerns about climate change influence those attitudes? The surveys supported the authors’ hypothesis that farmer’s level of concern about how climate change would impact their livelihoods was correlated with mitigation strategies. Farmers who did not believe climate change was human-caused or was not a problem were more likely not to support mitigation.

This study took place in Iowa, which is known as the “Corn Belt” for producing half of the corn and soybean supply in the US and is where extreme weather attributed to climate change has become increasingly frequent. These changes include warmer winters, longer growing seasons, and higher dew point temperatures. These shifts impact agricultural production and the natural resource base. Arbuckle et al. initiated their study with questions in mind of whether farmers support adaptation and mitigation actions in response to climate change and whether beliefs and concerns about a changing climate influences attitudes. The authors held several hypotheses labeled as H1, H2a, H2b, H3a, and H3b regarding the relationships between attitudes towards adaption to climate change and its impacts. They predicted that farmers who expressed concern and thought climate change was real would mitigate farming practices if it proved effective while those who did not believe change was occurring would not change their methods. The independent variables in this study were a concern scale and ingenuity. The dependent variables included the three actions of protection, drainage, and mitigation, in response to climate change. The three controlled variables were acres of row crops farmed, age, and education. The surveys asked on a scale of five classifications (strongly disagree, disagree, uncertain, agree, strongly agree) what farmers beliefs on climate change were (concern and ingenuity) and what their opinions were on protection, drainage, and mitigation. Arbuckle et al. used a multivariate statistical model to identify relationships between beliefs about the existence of climate change, impact concerns, and attitudes towards different responses.

The results showed that level of concern and age were significant indicators of whether farmers would take action to protect farmland from damage. Farmers who expressed more concern were more likely to take additional steps to alleviate adverse effects of increased precipitation­—these results were consistent with hypothesis H1 (concern positively associated with support for protection, drainage, and mitigation). Hypotheses H2a and H3a, predicting ingenuity and belief about climate change would be positive predictors to support action, were not supported. Concern and ingenuity were found to be strongly associated with support for additional agricultural drainage consistent with H1 and H2a (ingenuity positively associated with protection and drainage). Belief in climate change however did not prove to be a positive predictor. Concern was found to be a positive predictor of government action while ingenuity was found to be a negative predicator of mitigation. Just as the authors expected, the relationship between belief in anthropogenic climate change and applying mitigation methods had a positive relationship. The farmers who believed climate change was caused naturally or were uncertain of its existence were less likely to support government mitigation actions.

This study was one of the first efforts to investigate the relationship between farmer belief on climate change, concern, and attitude towards adaptation and mitigation in agriculture. Arbuckle et al.’s overall hypothesis of the surveys was supported. Farmer beliefs of climate change and their concern for its impacts to them personally directly influenced their response to adaptation and mitigation. These surveys indicated how important perception is to climate risk on one’s farming methods. It is not influential enough for one to believe in climate change but farmers must understand it is largely caused by man and will affect them directly. Farmer’s views on climate change are critical to maintaining agricultural productivity and resilience, especially if policymakers want to create effective, agriculturally protective changes.

Arbuckle Jr., J. G., Morton, L. W., & Hobbs, J., 2013. Farmer beliefs and concerns about climate change and attitudes toward adaptation and mitigation: Evidence from Iowa. Climatic Change, 1–13.

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