Ag Policy Blog
Chris Clayton DTN Ag Policy Editor

Wednesday 10/24/12

Finding Useful Information for Farmers on Climate Change

Increasingly, farmers and their advisors believe climate change is happening. The question for researchers then is how best to provide farmers useful information to help manage the affects of climate change.

That's the crux of conversation for some research programs funded by USDA that presented preliminary data at the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America and Soil Science Society of America joint meeting in Cincinnati this week.

The "Tri-Society" meeting is effectively a conglomeration of 15-minute presentations on detailed scientific work filling every room of not only the convention center but spilling over into hotel conference rooms as well. You can bounce from event to event hearing similar themes or anchor yourself to one room. Either way, you are going to get hammered with Powerpoints, charts, charts, charts and more charts explaining some scientific data that is that particular scientist's mission in life.

If you aren't a PhD in agronomy, crop genetics or soil science, then you likely need a constant dose of caffeine to concentrate. But the tri-meeting is one of those meetings that can make you appreciate the tedious nature of scientific discovery.

The event is filled with a broad array of work on the latest science regarding issues ranging from greenhouse-gas mitigation of advanced biorefineries to using soil profile data to better map nutrient needs to increase wheat yields. Somewhere in the middle are big-picture discussions about future food demands and whether there will be the water available to deliver that kind of food production.

There also is sociology as well, particularly regarding climate change. One project called "Useful to Usable: Transforming Climate Variability and Change Information for Cereal Crop Producers" took a detailed look at climate change attitudes among farmers, mainly in the Corn Belt. The researchers sent surveys to 19,000 farmers in 22 states surveys to gauge their views on climate information.

The survey reached out to farmers who had a minimum of 80 acres of corn and incomes above $100,000.

It should be noted the survey was done last February and March, before the 2012 drought hit the Midwest.

The researchers hoped to glean information about farm management strategies, the value of weather information, risk management, influential information sources farmers rely on and the climate change concerns and beliefs.

They got back 4,778 surveys, a response rate of 26%, which was considered a little low. As expected, 98% of the farmers responding were men with a median age of 55. They had a median farm size of 640 acres as well.

The farmers said 1-14 day forecasts had the biggest influence on their decision-making. About 40% of the farmers considered longer perspectives useful, such as monthly or seasonal weather outlooks. Another 20% were unwilling to use seasonal forecasts.

Over 60% of farmers said they have seen more variability in their weather. Yet that wasn't attributed to climate change.

When asked about views of climate change, 8% said the climate is changing and it is mainly due to human activities. Another 33% said the climate is changing, but it is due to a mix of human activities and nature. Then another 25% said they believed the climate is changing, but it is due to natural forces.

In that sense, then 66% of farmers agreed in some form or another that climate change is happening.

Another 31% said there was not sufficient evidence to say the climate is changing. Four percent of farmers said simply that nothing different is happening.

Another survey then questioned crop advisors. More than 7,000 surveys were sent out with 2,530 surveys completed.

The crop advisors were a mix of people who worked with farmers on everything from conservation practices to pesticide management, financial planning, government programs or regulatory issues.

Crop advisors responded that they were concerned about droughts being longer, as well as extreme rain events, heat stress on crops and soil erosion.

Their views on climate change closely matched those of farmers. 12.6% of the crop advisors said the climate is changing due to human activities. Another 37% said the climate is changing due to a mix of humans and natural forces. Another 24.6% said the climate is changing, but it is a natural condition.

All told, nearly 75% of crop advisors agreed that the climate is indeed changing for farmers.

Another 23.3% of crop advisors said there is not enough information or science to determine whether the climate is changing. Just 2.3% said nothing new is occurring out there.

In a separate forum, data were presented about the attitudes of California producers, who are more prone to believe climate change has manmade causes. That's partially because California farmers are already dealing with the effects of climate regulations under AB32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, which requires California to lower its emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The law goes into effect in January.

It's a one-third split among California farmers in belief of manmade climate change, natural climate change, or simply that no climate change is occurring.

The state law doesn't require farmers to specifically meet emission goals in the same way as other businesses. Emission reductions for farmers are voluntary, but there is a concern among producers that those demands will become mandatory later on.

The question in California also is how to preserve ag land because so much gets displaced by urban development, which can have a whopping 70 times the greenhouse-gas emissions of farmland.

Yet, as a University of California-Davis researcher noted, farmers have a "psychological distance" on climate change. For instance, producers are more willing to change their practices based on their understanding of future water availability. But they are less willing to do so because of future predicted temperatures or understanding of the impacts of climate change globally.

Regulations are a more pressing concern. As the researcher quoted one farmer: We can adapt to the impacts of climate change. We're not so sure about the California Legislature.

I can be found on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

Posted at 5:17AM CDT 10/24/12 by Chris Clayton
Comments (5)
Chris, Can you post some documentation referencing the 70% more greenhouse gas- urban/rural for me? With a little reference material, I could use that number in what I participate in. It seems the urbanites refuse to acknowledge any responsibility for the subject. Thanks
Posted by Bonnie Dukowitz at 6:22AM CDT 10/24/12
I have no urban friends denying their participation in carbon emissions. In fact I know more of them have taken steps to decrease their carbon footprint. Much more of my rural friends deny humans promote climate change. Instead of playing the "blame game" I'd suggest reducing ones own carbon footprint. The rest of the world is very concerned but without the US change will not occur.
Posted by Jay Mcginnis at 7:57AM CDT 10/24/12
Here is something I have never been able to understand. Why is it the default assumption that everything about a changing/warming climate will be bad?
Posted by Campbell Ian at 10:03AM CDT 10/24/12
Because bad stirs the masses. Good news of more warmth for longer growing seasons and less heat needed doesn't stir contraversy. For real info grab a old sack and head out into a cow lot. Fill bag with dung and that will equal the credible science that has been practiced so far.
Posted by Frank Thomas at 5:39PM CDT 10/25/12
I guess you guys don't think huge droughts amend over sized hurricanes are negative? Nice climate change you promote! How many more droughts and massive storms can we afford! Maybe Romney will hand out climate vouchers, you will get binders of them in the next 8 yrs when coal and oil have no regulation! Welcome to the 21st century weather!
Posted by Jay Mcginnis at 7:13PM CDT 10/31/12
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