Skip to content

The Real Reason Why US Farmers Are Sceptical Of Climate Change

July 5, 2016

By Paul Homewood




A remarkably condescending piece from Fortune Magazine:


Some U.S. farmers are skeptical of climate change, even though they’re among the most affected by it

There’s a strange paradox in the world of agriculture: farmers are perhaps the segment of the population most affected by climate change, and yet a significant number of them don’t believe in it—especially the notion that it’s man-made.

I encountered this phenomenon as I reported a feature for Fortune on how agricultural giant Monsanto is attempting to help farmers both mitigate their impact on the environment and adapt to climate change. All the farmers I talked to readily acknowledged that the weather patterns governing growing seasons had been turned upside down in recent years, but I was on the receiving end of a lot of eye rolls whenever I brought up climate change.

Monsanto MON -0.58% gets a similar response from the growers who buy its seed. The company’s chief technology officer, Robb Fraley, told me he’s received numerous angry emails from farmers asking why the company is supporting what some call “this government effort.”

I don’t want to suggest that all farmers reject the concept of climate change. That’s not the case. But here’s what some of the numbers show: A survey conducted by Iowa State Professor J. Arbuckle and Purdue University professor Linda Prokopy of 5,000 Cornbelt farmers—representing about 60% of U.S. corn production and 80% of farmland in the region—found that only 8% believed climate change is taking place and caused primarily by human activity. That 8% figure is significantly lower than the general population. A poll from January found that 27% of the general public primarily blames human activity.

Meanwhile, 33% of the farmers surveyed said climate change was caused more or less equally by natural changes and human activities, 25% said it was caused by changes in the environment, 31% said there wasn’t sufficient evidence to know if climate change is occurring, and 4% said climate change is not happening.

So, what’s driving this sentiment? “In some quarters of agriculture the term climate change can be politically charged,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told me, “and there is a reluctance to embrace that term while also recognizing weather patterns are changing and that farmers need to adapt.”

The politicization of science is nothing new. Just think of the anti-vaccination movement. But it comes out in full force within the world of agriculture, especially when considering climate change and genetically modified organisms—one of the industry’s hot-button issues. Many farmers who accept the scientific consensus on the safety of genetically modified seed reject the consensus on climate change. Meanwhile, many environmental activists reject the science on the safety of genetically modified seed but embrace science that supports their views on climate change. Monsanto gets hit from all sides because it believes in both.

Yale Law School Professor Dan Kahan, who studies science communication, has written that “when people are shown evidence relating to what scientists believe about a culturally disputed, policy-relevant fact … they selectively credit or dismiss that evidence depending on whether it is consistent with or inconsistent with their cultural group’s position.” This leads people to “form polarized perceptions of scientific consensus even when they rely on the same sources of evidence.”


The article continues with the usual nonsense about liberals v conservatives etc.

But has it not occurred to these geniuses that maybe, just maybe, these farmers actually understand their climate and its history much better than they do? Or that climatic patterns change all the time?


Let’s check out what NOAA have to say about the climate of the Corn Belt (and bear in mind that these graphs are based on their already heavily doctored data).



First, annual temperatures.

As we can see, temperatures have risen since the 1970s, but only back to the level of the 1940s.




When we look at summer temperatures, we find that they were much higher back in the 1930s.




Meanwhile, rainfall has been increasing in recent decades, and the long and severe droughts, regularly seen in the past, have become much less common. If this is due to climate change, I am sure farmers will be more than happy about it.




Snotty little academics like Arbuckle and Prokopy actually do themselves a great disservice by ignoring the accumulated knowledge and experience of the farmers who actually till this land.

Many will be aware, and certainly those whose families have farmed there for generations, that climate on the Great Plains runs in cycles, of which the period since 1910 only offers a small window.

The belief that “the rain follows the plough” actually stems from an unusually wet period on the plains in the 1880s, which was then followed by drought in the 1890s, and then another wetter period in the early 20thC. (There is a full analysis of this period here.)

It may, just may, be that global warming has improved rainfall levels in the Mid West. However, to assume that is just as dangerous, and naive, as believing that rain follows the plough.


In any event, whatever impact man is having, it is evident to anybody with a passing knowledge of the climatic history of the Corn Belt that it is small compared to the great natural changes that always take place. 



I would like to finish by introducing you to Professors Arbuckle and Prokopy, (although I suspect you’re way ahead of me here!): 






As you’ve probably guessed, they’re both sociologists, who know bugger all about climate, or much else for that matter.

Perhaps it is time the pair of them got real jobs, maybe down with the farmers they are so dismissive of! 

  1. July 5, 2016 6:18 pm

    Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    I come from a family of farmers. They have to be ruthlessly practical because their livelihood depends on it.

  2. Tom O permalink
    July 5, 2016 6:21 pm

    Let’s be realistic here! As a group, Farmers are far more familiar with bovine feces than any other group of people on the planet, and they can spot it from a long distance. Is it a wonder that they would be skeptical?

  3. Bloke down the pub permalink
    July 5, 2016 6:25 pm

    As is usually the case with polls like theirs, the answers given may be far more nuanced than appears in the final figures. As you rightly point out, farmers have experience going back generations that is more relevant than anything Noaa pump out. They also have local knowledge, for example the water level in boreholes that is more useful than any computer prediction.

  4. Gamecock permalink
    July 5, 2016 6:32 pm

    ‘don’t want to suggest that all farmers reject the concept of climate change.’

    The concept is what Kowitt, Arbuckle, and Prokopy are fighting for. The concept has nothing to do with weather, or even climate. A reification fallacy. “Climate change” is undefined, but you better be on the right side of it! Sociologists demand it!

    • Sara Hall permalink
      July 5, 2016 7:00 pm

      I came to the conclusion some time ago that many people study sociology (along with a few other pseudo sciences of similar ilk) because they simply can’t understand human behaviour. Many of the rest of us learn about human behaviour, without having to go to university to get a “qualification”, just by living and observing what’s going on around us. The trouble with these sociology (and the rest) graduates is that they then firmly believe that they must now know more than the rest of us, because they’re properly “qualified” in the wretched subject(s)!
      A friend’s daughter studied languages at uni for her BA, then did an expensive one year course in “Environmental Studies” to gain an MSc. This makes no sense to me whatsoever.

      • Evan Jones permalink
        July 9, 2016 5:46 pm

        Like psychology, I would call it a quasi-science. Insufficient coverage of an enormously complex realm of knowledge. The field is legitimate, but the tools and expertise are still very crude and often wrong.

  5. July 5, 2016 7:04 pm

    Can only speak to my dairy farm in SW Wisonsin Uplands. Owned since 1985. Spring planting as variable as ever. Four years ago we found no morels in the peak time around May 10– too cold. Was 2 weeks later that they became abundant. The following year, they were a week early. We are typically getting better summer rain than in the 1990’s. Last bad drought was 1989. Winters since about 1995 less permanent Dec snow cover (snow prevents alfalfa winter kill) until last three or four. Now back to snow cover by thanksgiving most years. Last two years we lost deer hunting days due to major snowstorms Thanksgiving week. In other words, just typical weather. None of the farmer’s I know in the area think climate change is an issue. Nor do the cows, the deer, the wild turkeys, the coyotes, the morel mushrooms, or the forests.
    Terrible when a business magazine like Fortune jumps on the dumb farmer/climate change is horrible bandwagon.

    • nightspore permalink
      July 5, 2016 8:19 pm

      Yes, this bien pensant mentality has spread far and wide. It appears that any entity that was formerly more-or-less centrist has now been thoroughly infected.

  6. July 5, 2016 7:14 pm

    Quote: The company’s chief technology officer, Robb Fraley, told me he’s received numerous angry emails from farmers asking why the company is supporting what some call “this government effort.”

    The farmers have hit the nail on the head. It’s a manufactured issue.

    • July 6, 2016 8:35 pm

      Absolutely it is a manufactured issue for the purpose of establishing government control. With all the data-set manipulations at the government level, it is no wonder few believe them. Besides, if the temperatures are indeed increasing, there is no proof it is not natural variation. Claiming any climate change is due to human activity is fool-hardy and unprovable.

  7. Swisspeasant permalink
    July 5, 2016 8:20 pm

    The reason why I contribute by the name of Swisspeasant is in tribute to the unknown Swiss Woodcutter who patiently explained to the Scientist Charpentier that the erratic boulders around them could not have been moved by Noah’s flood but must have been caused by glaciers and the earth must therefore be much older. Thus was born Charpentier’s glacier theory and indeed his career.
    At least he had the decency to tell the story and give the chap some money for a drink.

  8. Alberto Zaragoza Comendador permalink
    July 5, 2016 8:33 pm

    ‘As you’ve probably guessed, they’re both sociologists, who know bugger all about climate’

    I can only think of this quote from a recent Lindzen video:
    ‘Scientists from outside climate physics have joined the bandwagon, blaming global warming for everything from acne to the Syrian civil war’

  9. tom0mason permalink
    July 5, 2016 9:07 pm

    “All the farmers I talked to readily acknowledged that the weather patterns governing growing seasons had been turned upside down in recent years, but I was on the receiving end of a lot of eye rolls whenever I brought up climate change.”

    I should think these farmer understand that if, through media and social discourse, etc., you keep sensitizing people to react to what once was normal, they will acknowledge and show more awareness of the subject to which they have been sensitized.

    That is to say many of these farmers at the start of their careers worked through weather events, playing little heed to them other than noting when the weather was mighty good or devilishly bad, at any particular time. They also probably heard historic recollections of great storms, great droughts, floods, and heard of the subsequent variations in harvests from much older folk retelling true histories of times when everything was so much better, or maybe so much worse.

    These days with all the modern communication having a hullabaloo about climate change for the last few years these farmer now note all the weather changes and variations. This may be new to some farmers as before they would just read the weather forecast and plan around it, these days they are sensitized by the media, watching and listening, being informed in the minutest detail of each weather event as if it is somehow now special, new.
    Thankfully most farmers are country-wise and intelligent, they understands that it is just natural weather diversity within its normal climate range, all varying quite normally, quite naturally.

  10. Graeme No.3 permalink
    July 5, 2016 9:38 pm

    Interesting parallel with South Australia. During 1865-1889 wheat farming spread rapidly north onto new land because of good rains. The phrase “rain follows the plough” was used here too.
    1890-1910 was the Federation drought. The new farms were wiped out and abandoned. Willochra, the town at the centre, disappeared by 1920.

  11. CheshireRed permalink
    July 5, 2016 10:52 pm

    My dad was a farmer. He was (and still is) a pragmatist. He does what works and doesn’t bother with stuff that doesn’t. Ideologically driven he ain’t. Wishful-thinking green snowflakes could do themselves a favour by taking note.

  12. John F. Hultquist permalink
    July 6, 2016 4:45 am

    We moved to our little plot of land in summer 1988.
    There was a pretty flower blooming about the 4th of July; an easy date to remember in the USA.
    The flower is Green-banded Mariposa Lily:

    Anecdotal evidence may not actually be evidence but yesterday – the 4th – I found 3 flowers in full bloom and nearby (hard to find) there are several more about to show. Some folks consider the date late for these, but I live at 2,240 feet elevation. At 800 feet a few miles east, they bloom a month earlier.

    Ranchers, hay growers, and orchardists around here. None seem much interested on global warming. Well, a little warmer would be good.
    Likely they would not read Fortune Magazine nor relate well to a sociologists.

  13. Tim Hammond permalink
    July 6, 2016 7:51 am

    What a p*ss-poor bit of “logic”.

    The question isn’t “is the climate changing?” but “what is the cause of any change?”

    All the ice in the world could melt and the corn belt cold become a desert and it still wouldn’t prove CO2 was the cause. You need to prove the cause, not the observation.

  14. July 6, 2016 8:42 am

    “All the farmers I talked to readily acknowledged that the weather patterns governing growing seasons had been turned upside down in recent years..”

    BZZZZZT BZZZZZZTT! Anecdotal evidence alarm!

    • Mark - Helsinki permalink
      July 6, 2016 2:02 pm

      If that were so it would be revealed in the harvest stats and they are all up up up. So it is indeed nonsense

  15. A C Osborn permalink
    July 6, 2016 10:46 am

    The Farmer’s Almanac has always been one of the best at forecasting the weather, I wonder why that is?

  16. Reasonable Skeptic permalink
    July 6, 2016 11:38 am

    If you live in the country, your life is surrounded by nature, it dominates. If you live in a city, mankind is dominant.

  17. July 6, 2016 11:57 am

    My late father received his PhD in chemistry from MIT in 1926. He frequently quoted a satirical lecture notice in an issue of “The Harvard Lampoon”: there was to be a lecture in a Harvard hall by a professor on the topic “Sociology–Its Cause and Prevention”.

    Enough said. Don’t know how they became “scientists”.

  18. R2Dtoo permalink
    July 6, 2016 3:02 pm

    I give these folks credit for reporting the numbers as found. Their interpretation is biased by their academic training and the need for funding. What really is reflected is the growing divergence between rural/farm lifestyles and the burgeoning urban population. Rather than listen to the farmers, academics, politicians and urban residents apply their own “environmental” views. Somewhere along the line people have forgotten that urban and suburban environments are the greatest environmental cesspools ever created. They stop humans from experiencing the vagaries of weather, whether by constant restricted exposure to the elements (heating, cooling, protected transportation etc.), or by having any inconvenient events taken care of by “services”. Farmers would love to wake up to snow-cleared roads, heated transport between the house and work (out buildings, pastures, granaries). But rural folks have to handle much of life by themselves or with the help of neighbours. If a blizzard shuts things down, they can’t stay home from work or use their computer from home for all work-related matters. For these reasons, rural folks face the changes in weather every day, and major events (now called “extremes” and labeled “unprecedented”) are remembered because they caused major changes in the daily/weekly schedule. The diminution of contact with reality leads urban folks to be susceptible to scams like climate change. They are lead to believe that they are saving the planet by riding a bike now and then. Farmers and ranchers have to steward the land to stay in business, and they have, over time, done more to save the land, and feed the urbanites than all the cities combined.

    I am the first generation off the farm for my family, but I thank my parents for instilling an appreciation of, and respect for nature. I keep in touch through fishing, hunting, gardening and gathering. As kids we sat around the table and listened to the history of the family. Pioneer stories had been preserved, both my parents went through the dustbowl/depression in the Dakotas, and we all still lived primarily “off the land”. We confronted the atmosphere very day. I still do – and I can’t say it has changed much over my 74 years. The two C’s – common sense and computers- will continue to divide the population.

    • Nordisch-geo-climber permalink
      July 6, 2016 4:04 pm

      You are so right. Rural folk live in harmony with nature, the weather and climate, the seasons, the environment, the outdoors, the fresh air, the flora and fauna, the ecosystem. They have a sixth sense about what is happening around them. They understand more about the natural world than any city dweller.
      As a mountaineer, a geologist, an outdoorsman, I see and feel changes in weather patterns over the years acutely because they have a major impact on my life, and dictate my response.

      My summer climbing seasons are now colder and less productive than they were 30 and 40 years ago. We are having a very cold summer again – similar to my friend in Northern Canada, and my friend in Perth Australia is having a cold spell at present too.

      Sniffing the air, watching the weather and the sky is more accurate than reading the Guardian or listening to the BBC and the Met Office telling me what my weather is doing.

  19. July 6, 2016 3:34 pm

    Very strange conclusion. The 8 vs 92 split for the IPCC followers, should mean the 92 have a better grasp on reality, but , no. The 8 are smart.

    I never expected confirmation bias to be so strong. Identify politics anyone? Is delusional behavior at this level psychotic or just a Harold Camping level of religious zeal (if there is a difference)?

  20. Stonyground permalink
    July 6, 2016 7:57 pm

    Ever since I became aware of the Dunning Kruger effect I have felt that it applies in just so many cases. There are so many people that I have to work with who think that they know far more than they do. It would appear that the authors of this piece are textbook Dunning Kruger material.

  21. July 8, 2016 8:30 am

    Anyone who is under the age of about 70, such as Dr Mann or Mr Obama, cannot be relied upon when he claims that he knows climate has changed because he has seen it during his lifetime.

    Such witnesses are too young. Already by 1955, popular US gardening books and magazines were reporting the warming trend revealed by changes in the dates of first and last frost. My grandfather had a horse barn not far from the city center, but no horse. In the barn was a big sleigh that he used prior to 1900 when winters were longer and colder with more snow and little rain.

    We know now the warming changes was a result of the waning of the Little Ice Age.

    The demographic group most skeptical about climate change are US farmers, who happen to be older on average than other professionals and closer to nature than most. They remember as I do that temperature and rainfall fluctuate, but the fluctuations go both ways, up and down. The only change in climate that I can remember is the cooling during the 1960’s to early 1970’s. It seems that pre-WW2 warm conditions have returned. This does not seem to me a cause for alarm.

    Yes, climate might be changing and some day we might have sufficient evidence to be certain about how much and in which direction. We might even discover whether the change is for better or worse.

    But that day has not yet arrived and may not arrive during the lifetime of any scientists now practicing.

  22. RiHo08 permalink
    July 9, 2016 2:11 am

    Farmers are usually optimistic about the future and their crops. So it is of no surprise that people who rain catastrophe from every spot of sunshine or drop of rain are not believed, and, in particular, acted upon. It is this latter part, what are the actions of farmers that foretell their beliefs and hopes for the future. Indeed, farmers are the most adaptable to changes is weather and in particular know the foolishness in predicting weather 10 or more years out. The climate change community has a problem with farmers, because farmers confront reality daily. Such a perspective on the part of farmers means that climate change predictors are fools and are to be disregarded no matter whether or not money is attached to their projections. Climate scientists, in comparison to farmers, universally get things wrong.

  23. July 9, 2016 8:31 pm

    It is not a phenomenon when people distrust government scientists that tell us the world will be destroyed unless we adopt socialism and give more power to government.

  24. July 13, 2016 4:07 pm

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections and commented:
    Sociologists poll farmers about climate change. SMH.
    The comment thread is quite interesting, too


  1. Only 8% of American Farmers Believe in Climate Change! | American Elephants

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: