Iowa farmers agree with Iowa scientists: Climate change is real

The results from the most recent Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll are now available and are loaded with insight about Iowa farmers’ perspectives on global warming.  According to the poll, 68% of Iowa farmers believe climate change is occurring, and 28% are not sure.  Only 5% of those surveyed said climate change is not occurring.

The poll’s findings closely mirror the sentiments expressed by a group of Iowa scientists who co-signed a statement on climate change in November.  That statement read, in part:

“…changes in Iowa’s climate have clear connections to changes in global climate and to changes in how we use the land. As the global climate continues to evolve, our farmers and city planners will face new challenges to maintain the prosperity of our state and its role in national and global food security.”

Since its release in November, more scientists have added their signatures, bringing the current total to 36 signers representing 24 colleges and universities in Iowa.

Looking deeper, the recently released farm poll indicates that 45% of Iowa farmers believe climate change is partly or mostly a result of human activities.

The results suggest consensus among farmers that changing climate conditions will have an impact on agriculture in the future.  More farmers agree (46%) than disagree (20%) that “extreme weather events will happen more frequently in the future,” and a significant majority (62%) believe “Iowa farmers should take additional steps to protect their land from increased precipitation.”

Such poll results indicate farmers are aware of the same trends the Iowa scientists recognized in their statement:

“Subtle changes in climate can have large effects on agriculture, making it a sensitive indicator of climate change. Statewide data show changes in temperature, precipitation, and humidity over the last forty years affecting Iowa’s producers. In recent decades a longer growing season, more precipitation, and lack of extreme high daytime temperatures have contributed to improved crop yields in our State. But the accompanying increase in extreme rainfall events, higher humidity, and higher nighttime temperatures have required costly adaptations.”

The scientists’ observation that a changing Iowa climate may have helped boost yields in recent years may help explain why farmers in the poll were slightly more likely to believe climate change’s future effects on Iowa agriculture will be positive (24%) than negative (20%).  And farmers’ opinions were mixed concerning possible government action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—33% agree that the government “should do more” to reduce U.S. emissions, while 36% disagree and 31% are not sure.

Speaking at Ames last February at an event sponsored by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Dr. Gene Takle, one of four people who helped draft the scientists’ statement, summarized the uncertainty surrounding climate change’s impact on agriculture:

“Farmers already are adapting to climate change.” Takle, who directs Iowa State University’s Climate Science Program, told his audience.  “The question is whether they’ll be able to continue to adapt as more changes occur.”

For more information on this issue:

  • The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture has released the full audio from Dr. Takle’s February presentation, titled “Will Climate Change Impact the Sustainability of Iowa Farms?”
  • In 2010, the Iowa Office of Energy Independence released this report called “Climate Change Impacts on Iowa 2010″ to the General Assembly.  It contains a section discussing climate change’s likely effects for agriculture.
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