Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics’: U.S. Agricultural Producer Perceptions of Climate Change

Hockey Stick based on Mann & Jones 2003
Hockey Stick based on Mann & Jones 2003

Click here to read the article from the Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics (Roderick M. Rejesus, Maria Mutuc-Hensley/Paul D. Mitchell/Keith H. Coble/Thomas O. Knight). Here’s an excerpt:

Given the clout agricultural producers have in Congress, the perceptions of this small but influential group may have a significant effect on the policy debate and on laws that are eventually enacted. There are no recurrent surveys of the agricultural sector’s perceptions of climate change in the United States and empirical studies are limited in number and in scope. Weber (1997) found that approximately half of the 48 farmers surveyed in east–central Illinois did not believe in the existence of global warming. Diggs (1991) showed that after a drought experience, three-fourths of farmers surveyed in the Great Plains believed that the climate is changing. In contrast, Saleh Safi, Smith, and Liu (2012) showed that vulnerability to climate change did not affect climate change risk perception among Nevada farmers and ranchers.

This study examines U.S. crop producers’ perceptions of climate change and its likely effects on crop agriculture. Based on a mail survey of over 1,300 farmers in four states, we investigate producer characteristics to identify those that affect producer beliefs about climate change, its impacts, and likely farmer responses. Our study is the first to measure climate change perceptions of U.S. agricultural producers over a broad geographical range and to identify characteristics that influence their perceptions. Our results suggest that a large proportion of producers in our survey do not believe that cli- mate change is scientifically proven nor do they believe that climate change will adversely affect crop yields. However, a large percentage of farmers also do not have an opinion. There is some evidence that climate change perceptions vary with education, age, willingness to accept risk, the amount of farm assets, the percentage of farm assets in land, and the extent of importance of off-farm employment. Also, most farmers believe that crop diversification, crop insurance, lease/rental modifications, and exiting farming are likely producer responses to climate change…

Responses to the statement: “I believe climate change has been scientifically proven” indicate that 15–20% of producers in the four states strongly disagree with this statement. When the strongly disagree and disagree responses are summed, the total negative response is nearly 50% in Mississippi and Texas. However, in all four states, between 20% and 30% of respondents indicated that they have no opinion about the issue. In fact, the largest single response in Wisconsin (31%) was no opinion. Responses of agree and strongly agree sum to 36% for North Carolina and roughly 24% to 25% for Texas, Mississippi, and Wisconsin. These results reveal that although crop producers who doubt that climate change has been scientifically proven outnumber those that do not, there remain a significant proportion of respondents that have no opinion on the issue…

Responses to a set of questions asking producers to assess the likely impacts of climate change on crop production in their region are summarized in Table 3. Some of the results in this table are to be expected given previous tables indicating that many producers do not believe that climate change is occurring. The results in Table 3 indicate that roughly 70% of producers in all four states do not believe that climate change will affect (increase or decrease) their primary crop yield by more than 5%…

This article contributes to the scientific literature on climate change as one of the first to examine U.S. crop producers’ perceptions of climate change and its possible effects on the agricultural sector. In general, although there is a significant fraction of crop producers in these four states—Mississippi, North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin—who are skeptical of the climate change evidence and even less likely to believe it has been scientifically proven, the number of producers without any strong opinion on the matter cannot be ignored (21–31%). Our data suggest that not only is there relatively little acceptance of the existence of climate change, but also little belief that climate change will have negative effects on crop yields.

Excluding farmers who have no opinion, there is some evidence that climate change perceptions vary with education, age, willingness to accept risk, the amount of farm assets, the percentage of farm assets in land, and the importance of off-farm employment; also, no geographical disparity is observed. A caveat in interpreting these results, however, is that excluding the group with no opinion, although it clearly delineates responses, raises some concern about selection issues (see footnote 2). Nonetheless, the significance of these factors underscores several themes in understanding climate change perceptions and also points to several implications.

First, climate change is a gradual process with effects that are obscured by random weather events and cyclical climate patterns so that farmers are more skeptical about whether they are observing its effects (Weber, 1997). Because farmers do not directly perceive the consequences of climate change, previous re- search has suggested the need to provide scientific and statistics-based information about climate change from multiple sources to influence perceptions about climate change risks (Weber, 2006). In particular, Weber (2010, p. 6) suggests that “we should find ways to evoke stronger affective reactions towards the risk of climate change in citizens, managers, or public officials, by making the expected climate effects more vivid or concrete.” There seems to be interest in providing more information or outreach efforts, but the challenge is how to effectively deliver it to U.S. agricultural producers and the general public.

Second, it appears that farmers with more assets invested in farming tend to be skeptical about the science of climate change but are likely to believe that normal weather explains recent climate changes. One wonders whether this skepticism about climate science provides a screen for those with a lot more at stake if mitigation policies were implemented such as a cap-and-trade policy.

Third, we find the climate change issue and the lack of acceptance from some lay audiences to suggest scientific skepticism [ed.emphasis mine]. It is not clear whether this skepticism is likely to remain or change in the future. We suggest that it merits further study to see if the observed attitudes reported in this study will evolve over time.

Finally, notwithstanding the influence of certain variables on the perceptions of climate change, the four perception questions cannot give any strong indication about the source of skepticism. Undoubtedly, however, if belief in climate science is embraced, measures necessary to mitigate climate change would require sacrifices that not all people are willing to make; oftentimes they require a change of habits at the individual and societal level. Future research may want to examine farmers’ willingness to pay (or the payments/subsidies they are willing to accept) to implement climate change adaptation strategies, especially differentiating between those farmers who believe and those who do not believe in the existence of climate change. The current research is only an initial step in understanding farmers’ perceptions about climate change and the possible strategies to implement climate mitigation/adaptation policies.

Please note that the data was submitted in March 2012 and accepted March 2013.

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