Most Farmers Still Doubt They Have Anything To Do With Climate Change

Many farmers would agree that weather patterns are changing and extreme weather is increasing, but most don’t think these have anything to do with human activities, according to Dr. J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr., a sociology professor at Iowa State University.

“Farmers in general are taking extreme weather more seriously,” said Arbuckle, who has interviewed and polled farmers in the Corn Belt region on the issue. “But most of them are more in line with there maybe being a human cause, but probably some natural cause to it.”

That could be changing, at least slowly. A 2011 poll of Iowa farmers found only 11 percent of respondents agreed with the statement that climate change is occurring and “is caused mostly by human activities.” Two years later, the poll asked the same question and found that 16 percent of respondents agreed. 

Many farmers are also warming up to agricultural practices like cover crops and reduced tillage that not only make their farms more resilient to extreme weather, but can also reduce greenhouse gases

In Iowa, farmer participation in conservation and pollution reduction programs aimed at encouraging these types of practices is on the rise. The number of cover crops planted in Iowa increased 35 percent last year, for example. 

Progress can also be seen through initiatives like the Risky Business Project, which has seen global agribusiness firms like Cargill partner to support research into the relationship between climate change and agribusiness in the Midwest. 

“It’s coming along but, perhaps like it is in all sectors of society, it could happen a lot faster and probably needs to happen a lot faster,” Arbuckle said.

Some national farm groups have been slow to address the issue.

American Farm Bureau, the nation’s largest farm organization, has expressed skepticism about the impact U.S. action on climate change would have on global temperature or extreme weather events and is opposed to any efforts to regulate the industry’s emissions. The Farm Bureau did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment for this story.

Other organizations are taking a more proactive approach. The National Farmers Union, a group representing some 200,000 farms throughout the country, maintains a Climate Leaders hub. It shares resources on climate change with its member farmers and encourages farmers to consider adopting more “climate-smart” practices. 

Thomas Driscoll, the union’s director of conservation policy and education, admits that many farmers remain hesitant to discuss climate change openly.

But shifting the conversation away from that particular term, he believes, can still have a similar outcome of encouraging some of those practices without alienating farmers who aren’t on board with the climate science. 

“We find more and more that focusing on trends in weather and talking about disaster-resilient farming is more effective than talking about ‘climate change,’” Driscoll told HuffPost.

But in the longer haul, Driscoll believes it’s important to name the problem exactly what it is. And there’s still some way to go on that front.

“Where you can, you really need to get the full climate message across,” Driscoll said “and then we’ll be able to take a more holistic approach and work with the whole picture, rather than just treating the symptoms.”

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