Under Increasing Economic Pressure, US Farmers Seek Change in Next Farm Bill, New Poll Shows

Large Majorities Want More Help to Improve Soil and Water Quality, Would Back Political Candidates Who Favor Sustainable Agriculture Over Business as Usual

Published Apr 18, 2018

WASHINGTON (April 18, 2018)—Nearly three-quarters of farmers across the political spectrum in seven states are looking for a farm bill that prioritizes sustainable agriculture and conserves soil and water, and more than 70 percent would be more likely to back a candidate for public office who favors such priorities. That’s according to a new poll conducted by Iowa-based RABA Research on behalf of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The poll was conducted March 12-19, 2018 via telephone interviews supplemented by online interviews, and included more than 2,800 farmers in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin

"Farmers are eager for ways to safeguard natural resources while also improving their bottom lines," said Karen Perry Stillerman, senior analyst at the UCS. "Research shows that there are many effective, science-based practices that could boost soil health, slash water pollution, increase yields, and help farmers cope with droughts and floods. Farmers are telling us they need more tools, technical assistance, and financial support to adopt these practices."

The survey found:  

  • Three-quarters of farmers see the farm bill as somewhat or very important to their personal livelihoods.
  • An equal number want to see policies that offer incentives for farmers to take steps to reduce runoff and soil loss, improve water quality, and increase resilience to floods and droughts.
  • Seven in 10 respondents—across party lines—said they would be more likely to support a candidate for political office who favors farm success through sustainable agriculture.
  • Two-thirds of farmers said that farm bill programs that provided greater financial incentives for unfamiliar agricultural practices would make them more likely to adopt such practices.

"Farmers want to be good stewards, and these numbers demonstrate that an overwhelming majority are in favor of improved conservation results," said Tom Driscoll, director of the National Farmers Union Foundation and Conversation Policy. "We need healthy soil and clean water to grow food. Farm bill programs that offer financial incentives for innovation will keep farmers on the land and protect our natural resources for generations to come."

The findings come as farmers prepare for spring planting, voters head to the polls for primary elections, and Congress drafts provisions to reauthorize the farm bill, which expires on September 30. The survey shows that an overwhelming majority of farmers are seeking change in the federal government’s priorities for supporting U.S. agriculture. The poll was conducted before tensions over trade with China threatened to erupt into a full-scale trade war—in which farmers would be early casualties. Trade tensions are compounding the trouble farmers have faced in recent years as prices of leading U.S. farm commodities have plunged, leaving many farmers uneasy about the status quo and looking for solutions.

“The poll findings are very telling,” said Joe Maxwell, executive director of the Organization for Competitive Markets, former lieutenant governor of Missouri, and a fourth-generation hog farmer. “The farmers surveyed want the freedom to farm in ways that are both environmentally sustainable and profitable, and they need support make the switch. But huge agribusiness corporations have too much power setting the terms of U.S, agriculture, and with the Department of Justice’s recent approval of the Bayer-Monsanto mega-merger, that pattern continues. Meanwhile, farmers’ livelihoods are at stake. Policies that level the playing field and enable them to innovate will decrease the risks we face and ultimately improve the long-term viability of farming.”