On climate and conservation, a ‘generational change in attitude’

Large majorities of farmers already have undertaken many practices that conserve carbon in the soil, reduce inputs, or curb runoff of pollutants that can foul streams and lakes.


Many farmers tell me that they are the “original environmentalists” and new Agri-Pulse polling data underscores that message.

According to the survey of 600 farmers and ranchers nationwide, conducted by Aimpoint Research over the phone between Feb. 19 and March 13, large majorities of farmers already have undertaken many practices that conserve carbon in the soil, reduce inputs, or curb runoff of pollutants that can foul streams and lakes.

Moreover, farmers already are switching to no-till farming and other resource-conserving practices, according to the poll, which tracks with data reported elsewhere:

  • 77% said they had implemented new conservation practices.

  • 73% said they were using no-till.

  • 65% have invested in precision agriculture techniques that allow nutrients and pesticides to be applied according to need.

  • 64% have reduced energy use.

  • 60% are applying fewer pesticides.

  • 48% have cut back on fertilizer usage.

  • 45% have reduced water usage.

In addition, nearly one in every two American farmers would be interested in being paid to help reduce climate change, even though the climate issue is a relatively low priority and producers aren’t necessarily worried about its impact on their operations, according to the latest Agri-Pulse poll of U.S. producers.

Interest in carbon markets crosses party lines and is especially strong among younger farmers, according to the survey. The poll also found that large majorities of farmers already have undertaken many practices that conserve carbon in the soil, reduce the use of pesticides and other inputs, or curb runoff of pollutants that can foul streams and lakes.


Some 46% of those polled answered “yes,” when asked whether they would be willing to “participate in carbon markets, where you are paid to implement certain practices on your farm in exchange for reducing greenhouse gases.” Forty-five percent said they would not participate in carbon markets. The remaining said they didn’t know or had no opinion.

Age makes a difference: Some 54% the farmers under the age of 45 said they would take part in carbon markets, compared to 38% of those over 65 and 50% of those between ages 55 and 64.

Some 43% of parties who identify as Republican or who lean Republican said they would participate in carbon markets, compared to 54% of Democrats and 49% of independents.

Efforts to create national carbon credit trading foundered a decade ago when the Obama administration was unable to persuade Congress to establish a cap-and-trade system that would have forced polluters to slash greenhouse gas emissions or to buy credits that would have been generated by farmers and other sectors.

But private efforts to develop carbon markets have been gathering momentum recently because of commitments made by corporations to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Bruce Knight, a former undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's conservation programs in the George W. Bush administration, said he is seeing a generational change in attitudes toward climate issue and carbon markets.

There is “genuine interest among farmers in this, especially under the age of 50. There is a generational change in attitude,” he said.

He also said “the last 10 years’ worth of weather makes it difficult to deny that something is going on” in the climate.


Knight operates a consulting firm and is helping develop the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium, a national effort to develop a nationwide credit trading system for farm practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve water quality.

Climate change isn’t a pressing issue for the vast majority of farmers, though more than 40% of older farmers believe that growing conditions on their farms have been altered by climate change.

Climate change came in dead last in priority with an average score of 5.01, a small increase of 4.89 since the fall of 2018. The top issue for farmers this year was selling more U.S. farm products overseas, with a score of 8.85.

There was a sharp partisan divide on the climate issue: Some 62% of Democratic or Democratic-leaning farmers ranked the issue between 8 to 10, compared to 13% of GOP farmers and 29% of independents.

Roger Johnson, the recently retired president of the National Farmers Union and a former Democratic agriculture commissioner in North Dakota, said terms matter when it comes to the issue.

Farmers have often been more willing to call themselves conservationists than environmentalists and they tend to associate the term ”climate change” with environmentalism and carbon markets with conservation.

“We farmers, and most others as well, prefer the latter” term, he said in an email after reviewing the poll results.

“I’ve long felt the key is to get the incentives lined up so farmers are compensated for doing what we as society want done,” he said. “So, I’m not surprised by the results. Leaders should accept the science and work to provide incentives.”


A telling age divide emerged on the question of whether farmers are being personally affected by climate change. Older producers were more likely than younger to say that it had affected growing conditions where they farm

Overall, 38% of farmers overall and 45% of producers between from ages 55 to 64 said their farm had been affected by climate change, compared to 27% of farmers under 44 years of age.

Some 41% of farmers over 65 said they had been affected by climate change as well as 31 percent of farmers between ages 45 and 54.

Editor’s note: Agri-Pulse Executive Editor Philip Brasher contributed to this report. Wyant is president and founder of Agri-Pulse Communications Inc. For more news, go to .

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