Farming has become increasingly complex, and farmers must consider many factors as they weigh decisions about planting and fertilizing, pest and disease management and soil and water conservation. As they gather information and advice to make decisions, farmers rely on a variety of professional advisers to varying degrees, according to the 2014 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll.
The poll results led to some surprises, said J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr., a sociologist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who authored the latest Farm Poll report. The Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll 2014 Summary Report (PM 3073) is available for free download from the ISU Extension and Outreach Online Store and the ISU Department of Sociology Extension and Outreach website.
Farmers rely less on professional advisers for conservation decisions
"I found it interesting that for tillage and conservation decisions, which have longer-term soil health and productivity implications, farmers tended to rely less on professional advisers," Arbuckle said. "This was surprising because soil and water conservation is the foundation of long-term productivity and sustainability. This result points to opportunities for agricultural advisers to get more involved in helping farmers to evaluate and address their soil and water conservation needs."
More than 1,100 farmers participated in the 2014 Farm Poll, which documented the degree to which they rely on professional advisers to help them make agricultural management decisions. Extension agronomists helped develop a list of specific decisions, Arbuckle said, and farmers were asked to characterize who was responsible for making each decision. Their choices ranged from making decisions completely by themselves to their advisers alone being responsible for the decisions. Shared decision-making options included primarily the farmer with input from the adviser, the farmer and adviser equally involved, and primarily the adviser with input from the farmer.
Planting and fertilizer decisions
About 71% of farmers did not use an adviser to inform decisions regarding tillage type and 75% did not use an adviser for tillage timing decisions. On the other hand, most farmers reported that they consult with professional advisers to some degree for seed selection decisions (75%), planting decisions such as seeding rate (64%) and fertilizer program development (75%).
Pest and disease management
Relatively few farmers indicated that they make pest management decisions on their own, Arbuckle said. More than 75% of farmers indicated that they use a professional adviser to some degree for decisions on scouting and identification of insects, whether or not to spray, and which insecticide and insect-resistant seed varieties to use.
Results were similar for weed management decisions. More than 75% of farmers indicate they use a professional adviser to some degree for decisions on scouting and identification of weeds, whether or not to spray and which herbicide to use.
Farmers reported even more reliance on advisers for crop disease management decisions. "Of the farmers surveyed, 80% or more indicated they use a professional adviser to some degree for decisions on scouting and identification of diseases, whether or not to spray and which fungicide to use," Arbuckle said. "And more than half indicated that decision-making responsibility was shared at least equally with advisers, with around one-third of farmers relying primarily or wholly on adviser expertise for such decisions."
"One of the most pressing issues facing Iowa agriculture is management of the evolution of pests that are resistant to major management practices," he said. "An important implication of these findings is that Extension and Outreach work on these challenges should focus on both farmers and their professional advisers because they tend to make pest management decisions together."
Soil and water conservation practices
Slightly lower percentages of farmers indicated that they consult with professional advisers when making decisions about soil and water conservation practices.
"Nevertheless, around two-thirds of farmers reported they consult advisers for support in identifying conservation needs, deciding whether or not to implement conservation practices, and planning and design of conservation practices," Arbuckle said.
About the 2014 Summary Report: Topics in the Iowa Farm & Rural Life Poll 2014 Summary Report include farm succession plans, the role that professional advisers play in decision making, use of information and communications technology, and quality of life. Copies of the 2014 or any other year's reports are available from ISU Extension county offices, the ISU Extension and Outreach Store or Extension Sociology.