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Farmers Skeptical About Validity of Climate Change

mkrejesusabstract615The recently released National Climate Assessment, reported by a team of 300 experts, including a panel from the National Academy of Sciences, asserts that climate change is already impacting the United States, and that the warming of the past 50 years is “primarily due to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases.”

Ask American farmers about climate change and who or what is causing it, though, and you’re likely to get a collective shrug in response.

A recent survey in four states, led by NC State economist Roderick Rejesus, shows that farmers don’t readily accept the concept of climate change or the science behind it. They also have trouble believing crop yields would suffer due to climate change.

The study polled 1,300 farmers from four agricultural states – North Carolina, Mississippi, Texas and Wisconsin – and asked them questions about climate change and its effects, as well as what they would do if climate change brought about extreme weather in the future.

In three of the states only about a quarter of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that climate change has been scientifically proven. North Carolina farmers were more apt to agree or strongly agree with that statement, with 36 percent affirming climate change and its scientific merit.

More farmers in each state agreed or strongly agreed that human activities are causing changes in the earth’s climate, but they were outweighed by farmers who had no opinion, farmers who disagreed and farmers who strongly disagreed.

Rejesus noted that a large percentage of respondents – 21 to 31 percent – had no opinion on the questions about climate change and human influence.

“This may suggest that there are still a lot of farmers uncertain about climate change,” Rejesus said. “There may still be value in disseminating scientific information about climate change to producers.”

A majority of farmers agreed or strongly agreed that normal weather cycles explain most of all recent changes in climate, and that the El Nino/La Nina cycle of weather patterns is real and affects agricultural production where they live. Fewer farmers had no opinion on these two questions.

Approximately 70 percent responded that climate change would have little effect on production, predicting a 5 percent or less increase or decrease in crop yields.

In response to extreme weather caused by climate change, farmers reported that they would be likely to diversify crops, buy crop insurance, modify lease and rental agreements and even leave farming. In all states except Mississippi, farmers did not report that they would increase irrigation in response to extreme weather, while Mississippi farmers reported that they would irrigate crops more.

“Knowing that producers are likely climate change skeptics is important information to scientists and extension personnel promoting climate change mitigation and adaptation practices,” Rejesus said. “It may be advisable to just not mention ‘climate change’ when engaging farmers, but rather talk about how these mitigation and adaptation practices can economically benefit their operations.”

The study appears in the Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics.

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  1. The problem here is it’s not whether climate change is true or not but it’s people pushing threshold, the ceiling of what causes climate change. There are still skeptics on the whole idea of climate change but it’s apparent that things are definitely changing. More strange calamities have sprouted and countries and the islands after islands of ice are melting as we speak. It may not be true but still, proper awareness should be implemented before it’s too late.

  2. I think people view pollsters as their potential hucksters. Farmers recognize weather extremes are more common, yet let on that climate, the mother of weather is the same. Farmers are not going to give in something that they feel will open the floodgates for a dysfunctional government system taking a crack at expensive policies with no leadership.

    Farmers are also set up pretty good on crop-revenue insurance.

    Farmers understand how risk feels, in that, farmers live with risk. They surf the weather each year and expect some to fall and others to succeed. Perhaps weather extremes makes the waves a bit bigger – but that will only lead to bigger failures and bigger successes. With the former protected by crop-revenue insurance and the latter is pay dirt.

    I don’t blame Rejesus and others trying to get into the heads of farmers on the climate issue, but farmers hold their cards pretty close to their vest. Besides, farmers have been following weather daily, for decades. They not only have seen many extremes, they remember them. And then all of a sudden 5-10 years ago, everyone else discovered weather and says the sky is falling. And it may be, but when others don’t recognize they are late comers to the weather world, farmers are just going to hold their cards and see what these new comers are going to play next.