As the old saying goes, the only constant is change. That’s true everywhere, and especially true on Iowa farms. But while these changes might not be easy to see on the surface, they create impacts that can be felt for years.
The question of how to measure those impacts and trace the factors that cause the changes is one Iowa State University researchers wrestled with during the farm crisis of the 1980s. Out of that search to better understand farmers’ current situation and their attitudes toward a wide variety of agricultural topics was born the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll in 1982.
“Understanding these changes to rural Iowa was important not only in terms of what it meant for farm families and rural communities, but how that might inform policy choices,” says Paul Lasley, professor and Extension sociologist at Iowa State.
Helpful survey information
Nearly 40 years later, the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll still plays a vital role in helping understand the concerns of farmers across the state. Its longevity also allows researchers to compare how attitudes about certain issues have changed over time and provides a better understanding of what factors motivate change among Iowa farmers.
“The benefits of measuring perspectives, attitudes and behaviors over a period of time is that we can really track how the ag sector is changing, and how behavior, knowledge and awareness of issues change,” says J. Gordon Arbuckle, an ISU Extension sociologist. “This is really critical to the partners and stakeholders we work with, who in turn work with farmers, because they need to know where farmer attitudes are on a given issue in order to reach them there.”
To compile data for the poll, more than 2,000 surveys are sent out each year requesting a current snapshot of agricultural practices, attitudes and opinions of Iowa farmers. This information can then be used by ISU Extension specialists to plan programming that speaks to specific needs of farmers, as well as help guide additional research.
2020 results available soon
Jamie Benning is the water quality program manager with ISU Extension. Questions included in the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll about water quality initiatives and other conservation practices have a direct effect in the way she approaches the outreach aspects of her job.
“A lot of programming is directed toward farmer-operators, and we realized that for conservation practices, many of those are long-term investments that need the landowner to be an active part of the decision-making process,” Benning says. “It made us think more about who we needed to bring to the table and make sure our programming was addressing not only the farmer-operators, but landowners as well.”
Responses for the 2020 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll are being processed, with the new poll expected to be released in September. This edition of the poll is focused on farmer perspectives on quality of life and job satisfaction, use of communications technologies, dealing with weather variability and extremes, well water testing, water quality, and more.
Wall is a communications specialist for Iowa State University.