Research Identifies Challenges and Opportunities in Farmers' Response to Climate Change

Research released by partners at the Nature Conservancy, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences (UMCES) and the Maryland Grain Producers (MDGP) measures farmers’ and farm advisors’ thoughts toward current issues related to climate, conservation practices and the carbon market.

This research was conducted by Matt Houser (the Nature Conservancy and UMCES), Jennifer Gannon (MDGP), Lindsay Thompson (MDGP) and Amy Jacobs (the Nature Conservancy) in 2022 and 2023. It was funded by the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology. It suggests that Maryland farmers are adopting practices that provide climate resilience at relatively high levels despite the goals for such adoption stemming from non-climate-related origins.

The research team interviewed farmers and farm advisors like seed dealers, Extension agents, and other agriculture-related consultants around the state and set out to understand their views on climate-related challenges and opportunities. The study covers a wide range of topics, from beliefs on changing climatic conditions to current management practices to questions on how they receive information. 

“The development of carbon markets and potential future markets for agricultural environmental credits has been a hot topic. As professionals that represent farmers on a State and National level, we found it very important to understand the true opinions of farmers on topics such as the carbon market for agriculture, climate change and current conservation issues,” said Gannon, MDGP’s public relations and program assistant. “With that information, we will be able to do a better job moving forward developing and evaluating other programs to ensure they have a positive impact not only on agriculture but also on the agricultural community.”

Gannon said many of the farmers had similar responses when asked about topics surrounding climate change, resiliency and practices to aid, such as cover crops. The study says that 83% of farmers and 86% of advisors believed that climate change was occurring, regardless of its cause. But neither group was generally deeply concerned about any threats to agriculture from changing climatic conditions. Rather, economic and social issues were perceived as much more immediate threats.

The study also measures barriers to the carbon market, which Gannon said was the surprising part of the study’s results.

Most producers interviewed noted barriers to participating in the carbon market, including the widespread use of cover crops and no-till systems as factors that disqualify them from many carbon programs that focus on new practice adoption. Adding to the complexity is the fact that a higher percentage of farmers rent ground. Producers were also not confident in the science related to carbon trading.

“With the results from this research, we will be able to better understand any barriers to participation in the carbon market for agriculture, in addition to adoption of conservation practices in general. Understanding farmers' true thoughts on ‘hot topics’ is the integral first step for us to be a useful partner to farmers,” Gannon said.

Read the entire study here