On Nov. 2, 2010, Iowans will have the opportunity to vote on an amendment to the Iowa constitution referred to as Iowa's Water and Land Legacy. A new Iowa State University (ISU) research study offers some insight into farmers' views of the proposed amendment and the trust fund it would create to finance conservation efforts.
More than 1,300 farmers participated in the 2010 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll, which has an entire section in it titled "Farmers' Views On Conservation Funding and Iowa's Water and Land Legacy Amendment." ISU Extension sociologist J. Gordon Arbuckle co-directs the statewide survey with ISU Extension sociologist Paul Lasley. On average, the participating farmers in the 2010 poll were 64 years old and 48% earned more than half of their income from farming.
"We asked farmers for their opinions about the potential benefits of increased public investment in conservation," Arbuckle says. "We also asked about their support for increased funding for conservation and whether they supported the trust fund initiative, specifically."
Amendment would create a trust fund to protect natural resources
The amendment would create a dedicated fund, called the Iowa Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, to protect and enhance water quality, conserve agricultural soils and establish, maintain and improve natural areas including parks, trails and fish and wildlife habitat. The intent of the trust fund is to provide additional investment in agricultural conservation, wildlife habitat and natural resources-based recreation opportunities.
The constitutional amendment stipulates that 3/8 of 1 percent of any future sales tax increase in Iowa be dedicated to natural resource conservation. The amendment itself will not raise taxes.
On the whole, farmers appear to view the trust fund and associated natural resource-based development activities as potentially beneficial for Iowa farmers and rural areas, Arbuckle says. Farmers also seem to endorse the concept that generally, parks, trails and other natural resources-related recreational opportunities provide economic benefits to rural areas.
Farmers indicate uncertainty about the proposed amendment
Three of the key questions in the poll asked farmers whether they agreed or disagreed with these statements. The answers that the farmers gave are:
1) Iowa should dedicate additional public funding to programs to protect land, water and wildlife: 5% strongly disagree, 14% disagree, 30% are uncertain, 42% agree, 9% strongly agree.
2) I am in favor of the constitutional amendment to establish a Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund: 12% strongly disagree, 17% disagree, 42% are uncertain, 23% agree and 6% strongly agree.
3) Iowa needs more parks, trails and other natural resources-related recreational opportunities: 8% strongly disagree, 24% disagree, 36% are uncertain, 27% agree and 5% strongly agree.
"The Farm Poll data indicate that a significant proportion of farmers support increased investments in conservation," Arbuckle notes. However, the data indicate uncertainty about the proposed amendment as well. More farmers are uncertain about the amendment than are either supportive or in opposition.
"This suggests that many farmers are just not familiar enough with the initiative to offer their judgment," he adds.
Even with the uncertainty about the amendment, a majority of farmers believe in increasing public funding to protect and enhance Iowa's land, water and wildlife resources, he says. This research also shows that in general, Iowa's farmers view investment in conservation as an important contributor to rural development, and beneficial to both farmers and rural areas as a whole.
Farmers view investment in soil & water conservation as important
"That farmers view conservation investment as a plus for rural development is not surprising, because it's true," Arbuckle says. "Research has shown that natural resource-based recreation investments generate economic development. In addition, demand for soil and water conservation assistance is greater than what state and federal government have to offer right now. I think many farmers see this as an opportunity both for them and for rural areas more generally."
A complete analysis of the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll data related to Iowa's Water and Land Legacy amendment has been published in a new ISU Extension publication, "Farmers' Views on Conservation Funding and Iowa's Water and Land Legacy Amendment," PM 3008. It's available to download from the ISU Extension Online Store (www.extension.iastate.edu/store/) and Extension Sociology (www.soc.iastate.edu/extension/farmpoll.html). The 2010 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll Summary Report, PM 3007, and all previous summary and topical reports also are available to download.