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Farmers are worried about climate change but skeptical of carbon markets — survey

Four out of every five farmers taking part in the Farm Poll said climate change is occurring, up from seven out of 10 in the 2011 survey.

Farmers in the largest corn-growing state are increasingly concerned about the potential impact of climate change on their operations but also dubious of carbon markets that would pay them to sequester carbon in the soil, according to the annual Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll. Their skepticism stood in contrast to President Biden’s goal of creating new sources of revenue for farmers while his administration pushes American agriculture to be the first in the world to achieve net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases.

Four out of every five farmers taking part in the Farm Poll said climate change is occuring, up from seven out of 10 in the 2011 survey. And a growing portion of farmers express concern about the potential impact — 51% in the latest poll compared with 35% a decade ago.

“Farmers have experienced a lot of extreme weather since 2011, from droughts to extreme wet, and it’s likely that’s driving some of the changes in perspectives,” said Iowa State University sociologist J. Gordon Arbuckle, director of the Farm Poll, conducted since 1982. Growers were surveyed in 2011, 2013, and 2020 about climate change.

Nearly half of the 1,059 farmers taking part in the survey said they were uncertain about earning money for carbon capture or if they should reduce greenhouse emissions on their operations. Some 37% said carbon capture markets should be developed; 17% disagreed.

Arbuckle said skepticism was understandable since carbon capture programs do not exist at this point. “To me, these results sigal an openness to strategies that help make individual farms more sustainable while also addressing the climate crisis,” he said. “Income from carbon capture could be a great step in several right directions.”

A slim majority of farmers, 51%, said they planned to use more conservation practices on their land to increase their resilience to extreme weather. Their most common approach to climate adaptation was that seed companies should develop new crop varieties designed for changing weather patterns. Some 64% agreed with that idea.

Farm groups say participation should be voluntary, like other stewardship programs, if the federal government develops climate mitigation progams. An alliance of farm, environmental, and food retailer groups says mitigation initiatives should be built around tax credits and private-market opportunities.

The Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll is available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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