This week's Extension Lines summarizes a portion of the data collected by ISU Extension Sociologists J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr. and Paul Lasley in the 2010 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll. More than 1,300 farmers participated in the poll offering their views on community and economic development issues affecting rural communities across Iowa and the Midwest. Conducted every year since its establishment in 1982, the Farm Poll is the longest-running survey of its kind in the nation.
One of the unique and important characteristics of the Farm Poll is that its longevity allows for tracking changes over time, Arbuckle said. "This year we looked back to assess how responses regarding community life and neighboring have changed over the years. We had asked the same sets of questions in 1984, 1990, 1996, 2006 and 2010. This year we analyzed some of the changes over time."
Results were mixed in 2010, as well as when viewed over the past three decades, Arbuckle said. "Most of the declines appear to be related to changes in the social fabric of rural communities, whether from population loss or an influx of new residents as people have moved to rural areas to live on acreages or seek employment. Both population loss and the arrival of new residents can change the ways that neighbors relate to each other."
Ninety percent of farmers agreed that people do not depend on each other as they have in the past. Seventy-one percent believed that they have fewer neighbors than they did 10 years ago, 55 percent indicated they only see their neighbors when they drive by their farms, and only 32 percent agreed that their neighborhoods are close-knit.
However, positive trends were also noted. In 2010, seventy-two percent of farmers agreed that they can count on their neighbors if they need help and 59% indicated that the amount of visiting they do with neighbors had stayed the same or increased. While not major shifts, the trends suggest that farmers perceive modest improvements over the last three decades.
"Assessments of quality of life were also encouraging," Arbuckle noted. "Eighty-three percent of farmers reported that their quality of life had either remained the same or improved over the last five years, and 79 percent indicated that their quality of life would either stay the same or improve over the next five years. Despite the deep recession and some difficult weather-related events, Iowa farmers feel like they and their families maintained their quality of life and are optimistic about the future."
On average, the participating farmers were 64 years old, and 48 percent earned more than half of their income from farming.
Next week, we will continue to review the poll results dealing with population loss, agritourism, and access to services.
The 2010 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll summary report is available to download from the ISU Extension Online Store found at: www.extension.iastate.edu/store/ Search for publication PM3007.