Local Perspectives on Climate Change

Why is it important to understand farmers' perspectives on climate change?

Participants at a public meeting on climate and agriculture.

Participants at a February 1, 2012 public meeting on climate and agriculture. Photo courtesy of Patrick McGuire.

In the decades ahead, changes in temperature, water availability and the frequency of extreme weather are likely to have important effects on agriculture in both Yolo County and California. While agriculture produces greenhouse gas emissions, it can also mitigate the emissions that contribute to climate change through shifts in energy consumption, agricultural practices and carbon sequestration in soil and perennial crops. Farmers have a suite of practices that may assist them in adapting to these changes and supporting the sustainability of their farming enterprises. However, little is known about what may influence farmers' decisions to adopt sustainable practices.

How was the study conducted?

Interviews with 11 farmers and 2 cooperative-extension agents in Yolo County, CA were conducted to understand farmers' climate change perspectives and the potential for adopting new practices in the future. These interviews along with input from local agricultural organizations, farmers and industry were used to help design a survey for distribution to 572 farmers in Yolo County in early 2011 [1]. Of the 572 distributed, 162 were returned and analyzed (34% response rate). Survey questions asked farmers about their farm characteristics, management strategies, existing practices, climate change perspectives, and likelihood to adopt mitigation and adaptation practices in the future. This study was conducted by Haden, Niles and Lubell in Jackson et al, in prep [1].

What are the study's key findings?

1)Key findings related to farmer attitude and perceptions: - The majority (54.4%) of farmers agreed that the global climate is changing (Figure 1). However less than half believed that global temperatures are increasing (38.5%) and that human activities are an important cause (35.2%). - The majority of farmers believed that climate change poses risks to agriculture globally (53.4%), but approximately 44.5% also felt that it presents opportunities (Figure 1). - Farmers are most concerned about local climate impacts related to regulatory policies and markets followed by moderate concerns about local water availability (Figure 2). - Local impacts on temperature were less of a concern to farmers in Yolo County (Figure 2).

Farmer responses to climate change belief questions

Figure 1. Farmer responses to questions related to climate change belief, cause and risk. Source: Niles, Haden and Lubell in Jackson et al, in prep [1]_ .

Level of concern for local climate impacts

Figure 2. Mean level of concern for local climate impacts.

2)Key findings related to farmers' willingness to adopt adaptation and mitigation practices - Farmers were more likely to adopt adaptation practices related to irrigation than practices related to cropping choices. - Farmers are more likely to adopt mitigation practice that offer direct economic benefits (i.e. improving energy and N fertilizer efficiency) as compared to practices that high up-front costs (Figure 3).

Likelihood of farmers adopting mitigation and adaptation

Figure 3. Mean likelihood of farmers adopting various mitigation and adaptation practices.

What are the implications for policy and management in the future?

California is currently in the process of implementing a cap and trade program to reduce GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. As part of this process, farmers may be able to participate in carbon offset markets, which will pay farmers to implement practices to reduce GHG emissions. Understanding farmers' perceptions about climate change, as well as the practices that farmers are most likely to implement can assist policymakers in creating policies that are relevant to farmers' interests. From a management perspective, knowing the types of practices that farmers are most interested in for climate change mitigation and adaptation can enable scientists and researchers as well as industry to target research and development towards these practices. Agricultural outreach and education strategies can help to provide farmers with accurate information related to risks and opportunities associated with climate change, as well as to inform farmers about what practices are most likely to enhance adaptive capacity.

References

[1](1, 2) Jackson, L.E., V.R. Haden, A. Hollander, H. Lee, M. Lubell, V. Mehta, T. O'Geen, M. Niles, J. Perlman, D. Purkey, W. Salas, D. Sumner, M. Tomuta, M. Dempsey, and S. Wheeler. Agricultural Mitigation and Adaptation to Climate Change in Yolo County, CA. In preparation for California Climate Change Center Report.