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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What Do Your Neighbors and Friends Think About Climate Change?


Do you think there as there been some noticeable change in our climate?  Have humans had any role in that?  If there has been some change in the climate for whatever reason, will it have an impact on crop yields?  If there is an impact on crop yields, would you be more willing to buy crop insurance, modify farmland leases to manage risk, or get out of farming? And by the way, do you believe the El Nino/La Nina weather cycle is real and affects agricultural production where you live?


Those questions have really never been asked of farmers in any official research until now.  There is quite a bit of political controversy about the topic of climate change, and different sides of the political aisle generally line up for and against.  But what do farmers think about that issue, particularly the ones who may be impacted, if, indeed, the climate is changing?  Some thorough research about farmer perceptions of climate change has been reported by Roderick M. Rejesus, North Caroline State University; Maria Mutuc-Hensley, Texas Tech University; Paul D. Mitchell, University of Wisconsin; Keith H. Coble, Mississippi State University; and Thomas O. Knight, Texas Tech University.  Their work focused on 1,300 farmer opinions in North Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, and Mississippi during the spring of 2009.  In addition to the thought-provoking questions, some demographic data was also collected to determine trends among various groups of farmers.  That data included ages, financial position, and farm organization membership.


Climate change opinions


In the 4 states, 15% to 20% of producers strongly disagree that climate change has been scientifically proven, however 20% to 30% of producers have no opinion, and 24% to 36% of farmers either agree or strongly agree that climate change is a fact of nature.


Are humans to blame?


The researchers report, “Overall these results indicate that nearly one-third of producers have no opinion on this issue with the remaining two-thirds weighted toward agreement or strong agreement in all states but Texas, where almost half of producers do not believe that human activity is a cause of climate change.”


Normal weather cycles


If you are asked whether normal weather cycles explain most or all of the recent changes in climate, a positive answer would certainly be joined by a majority of farmers.  In agreement with you would be 76% in Mississippi, 71% in Texas, 66% in Wisconsin, and 61% in North Carolina.


El Nino/La Nina


When asked if those weather patterns are real and affect agriculture, very few farmers either strongly agree or disagree, and most are in between.  However, the researchers say, “Like with earlier questions, the percentage of producers who have no opinion on this topic is fairly large, ranging from 17% in Texas to 27% in Wisconsin. However, on balance, there is a strong tendency toward agreement with this statement. Roughly 50% of producers in all states express agreement that El Nino/La Nina cycles exist and affect agricultural production where they farm.”


Impact on yields


For the most part, producers expect little impact, except for those who are convinced the climate is changing, according to the researchers.  They add, “It should be noted, however, that only a small percentage of producers expects climate change to either increase or decrease their expected yields by more than 10% in the next 25 years. Of the surveyed producers who strongly agreed/agreed that climate change is scientifically proven, 32% (14%) expected average yields to decrease (increase), whereas over half did not expect any change in yields of over 5% as a result of climate change.”


Options for risk management


If yield decline is expected from climate change, how would you manage your yield and revenue risk?  30% of the respondents had no opinion about crop diversification, but 44% to 51% think more diversification is likely or very likely. 25% had no opinion on the use of irrigation.  But more than 50% of Mississippi farmers expect to see more irrigation, while less than 25% of farmers in other states expect more irrigation. Regarding crop insurance, 42% to 56% of producers believe crop insurance is a likely or very likely response to extreme weather.


Planning for the future


For those farmers who agree that climate change is inevitable, what plans are they making for the future?  The researchers report, “roughly half indicated that farmers are likely/very likely to diversify crops more (51%), buy more crop insurance (55%), modify lease/rental arrangements (51%), exit farming (50%) in response to extreme weather in their location and approximately one-third (32%) responded that farmers are likely/very likely to irrigate more.”


Who thinks what?


  • Producers who attended at least some college tend to agree that El Nino/La Nina affects local agricultural production.
  • Older producers with presumably more farming experience are more likely to believe that humans are responsible for climate change but less likely to agree that El Nino/La Nina affects local agricultural production.
  • Producers with over $1 million in farm assets are likely to disagree that climate change has been scientifically proven.




Farmers are skeptical about the existence of climate change because it is quite slow, and trends are interrupted by other weather events.  Those who believe in climate change believe that it must be managed through risk management strategies.  Most farmers believe the weather is the result of certain cycles, possibly El Nino and La Nina, but the existence of changing weather conditions will need to be managed in some degree.

Posted by Stu Ellis on 10/23 at 10:06 PM | Permalink

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