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Life is still good on the farm despite a rough '08, Iowa survey shows

Agriculture.com Staff 12/10/2008 @ 9:14am

It's been far from an ideal year on many farms in the Midwest this year, but at least in the state of Iowa, farmers say they are still pretty well-off, according to the results of a recent statewide survey.

The annual Iowa Farm and Rural Life poll, conducted by Iowa State University Extension sociologist J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr., shows that almost half of those responding say the quality of their families' lives has improved in the last five years. In addition, 35% of all those responding say a similar improvement has taken place in their communities in general.

Specific to economic issues, Arbuckle says the more than 1,200 farmers participating in the survey were primarily on the positive side.

"Farmers generally were positive or neutral about the overall economic prospects for rural Iowa, with nearly 40% anticipating improvements over the next five years," Arbuckle says. "This is a sharp increase from 2006, when only 19% believed that economic prospects would improve, and represents the largest percentage of positive responses on this question since 1988."

This sentiment was even stronger when sharpening the focus on individual farms, the survey shows.

"Farmers were even more positive when asked about their own farms," Arbuckle says. "Eighty-four percent indicated no problem or at most a slight problem with their current financial wellbeing, with 59% reporting that finances were not a problem at all."

Still, the results of this year's farm and rural life poll for Iowa may not be entirely indicative of the sentiments out on the land. The survey was conducted in February, before the summer's flooding and subsequent market volatility. While it likely has "dampened spirits," Arbuckle says the data collected still indicates a positive trend.

"Recent developments in the overall and farm economy have likely dampened spirits some," he says. "The survey was taken back in February, when grain prices were on the upswing. Now that they've come back down some, along with the turmoil in other areas of the economy, I expect that assessments of future quality of life might be lower today.

"Nevertheless, what looks like a decent harvest on the whole, given the floods and other weather worries throughout the summer, might offset some of that bad news somewhat," he adds.

It's been far from an ideal year on many farms in the Midwest this year, but at least in the state of Iowa, farmers say they are still pretty well-off, according to the results of a recent statewide survey.

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