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Shifting farmer views on climate change

DANIEL LOOKER Updated: 10/28/2013 @ 9:56am Business Editor

A report to be released in about two weeks suggests that farmers are definitely not climate change deniers, although your views about the causes still reflect a lot of uncertainty and differing opinions.

Iowa State University's Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll, the longest running annual survey of its kind in the nation, started asking farmers about climate change in 2011 and repeated the same questions this year.

The results show a shift in beliefs.

Out of the 852 Iowa farmers who answered those questions both years, 5% said "climate change is not occurring" in 2011. This year 3% held that view.

Those who remain uncertain about climate change are a sizable minority, but also smaller. In 2011, 27% agreed that "there is not sufficient evidence to know with certainty whether climate change is occurring or not." In 2013, 23% held that view.

The rest of the group believe climate change is taking place but not on the role of humans in all this. Only a minority agrees that "climate change is occurring, and it is caused mostly by human activities," but that's also the biggest shift in opinion--from 11% with that view in 2011 to 16% this year.

The biggest group splits the difference, agreeing that "Climate change is occurring, and it is caused more or less equally by natural changes in the environment and human activities." That group, too, increased slightly, from 35% in 2012 to 37% in the 2013 poll.

The other choice given in the survey was "Climate change is occurring, and it is caused mostly by natural changes in the environment." That view changed little, dropping from 23% in 2011 to 22% this year.

Such changes aren't unusual in opinion polls, says J. Gordon Arbuckle, Jr., the ISU sociologist who prepared the survey along with ISU Extension sociologist Paul Lasley.

"The general public goes up and down on what they believe about climate change," Arbuckle said.

Nor was the changing views among farmers unexpected.

"I wasn't surprised because the wild weather we've been having the last couple of years has got people thinking, 'something must be going on,' " Arbuckle told Agriculture.com.

Perhaps no other occupation is more affected by and obsessed with weather than farming. So when the poll asked Iowa producers to rank the things that influence their beliefs, drought was at the top of the list. Iowa was still in drought when the survey was mailed last February by USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service to a sample of 2,145 farmers. Of those who responded to that question, 49% said drought had moderate or strong influence on their beliefs about climate change; 42% put "extreme rains and flooding" in one of those categories.

None of the organizations listed for possible influence made the same impression as recent weather. ISU Extension was most influential, with 28% indicating a moderate to strong influence. Environmental groups had that much influence on 21% and government agencies 20%. Farm groups came in last, at 14% moderate to strong influence.

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