Pennsylvania Agricultural Producers' Perceptions, Barriers and Beliefs on Climate Change

Open Access
Thorn, Kaila Danielle
Graduate Program:
Agricultural and Extension Education
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
July 14, 2017
Committee Members:
  • Rama B Radhakrishna, Thesis Advisor
  • Daniel Benjamin Tobin, Committee Member
  • Curits Dell , Committee Member
  • climate change
  • Northeast
  • agricultural producers
The change in climate can be felt through warmer temperatures, increased pests and more extreme precipitation. Because the agriculture sector is particularly vulnerable to variations in weather patterns, having a keen understanding of what the future holds for agricultural producers is crucial to reducing the impacts felt through climate change. The purpose of this research study was to determine Pennsylvania agricultural producers’ perceptions, barriers, and beliefs towards climate change and how those factors impact adaptation on their farms. This is a descriptive correlational study to describe the aforementioned factors and how they impact Pennsylvania agricultural producers’ farm adaptations in response to climate change. A statewide survey, consisting of six sections was sent to a random sample of 499 Pennsylvania agricultural producers. A 51.5% response rate for the survey; follow-up with non-respondents supported the study findings to be generalizable to the entire sample population. The survey examined six independent variables: agricultural producer demographics, perceptions on environmental conditions, barriers to adaptations, influencers of farm decisions, preferred delivery methods, and climate change beliefs. Four of the variables were correlated with the dependent variables, crop and livestock and adaptations. Results indicate that Pennsylvania agricultural producers were older males with a high school education on average. The majority of producers had observed similar environmental conditions changes in temperature, precipitation and migration of diseases and pests. Despite recognizing changes in conditions, there were notable barriers to farm adaptations, particularly in the costs of implementing and maintaining new adaptation practices. Interestingly, despite being aware of changing environmental conditions, producers rated ‘climate change’ lowest on their list of farming concerns, as a barrier to adaptation. A further examination of farming adaptations found that family, conservation staff, and online weather resources were top rated influencers in making climate change decisions. Producers indicated print newsletters and demonstration sites to be both most useful and effective methods to engage in climate change education. Three questions examined climate change beliefs and found respondents to be loosely divided between believing in climate change and not feeling there is enough evidence to know the cause of climate change. These results indicate a divide between opinions and that outreach efforts should be deliberate in understanding where stakeholders in their community stand on their beliefs around climate change. Overall, this study has provided valuable data to make informed decisions about climate change. Moreover the findings from this study suggest a need to develop, deliver, and evaluate climate change outreach efforts. Based on the findings and conclusions, recommendations for further research and Extension programming are suggested.