Farmer Perceptions of Climate Change: Associations with Observed Temperature and Precipitation Trends, Irrigation, and Climate Beliefs
How individuals perceive climate change is linked to whether individuals support climate policies and whether they alter their own climate-related behaviors, yet climate perceptions may be influenced by many factors beyond local shifts in weather. Infrastructure designed to control or regulate natural resources may serve as an important lens through which people experience climate, and thus may influence perceptions. Likewise, perceptions may be influenced by personal beliefs about climate change and whether it is human-induced. Here we examine farmer perceptions of historical climate change, how perceptions are related to observed trends in regional climate, how perceptions are related to the presence of irrigation infrastructure, and how perceptions are related to beliefs and concerns about climate change. We focus on the regions of Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand, where irrigation is utilized on the majority of cropland. Data are obtained through analysis of historical climate records from local weather stations, interviews (n = 20), and a farmer survey (n = 490). Across both regions, no significant historical trends in annual precipitation and summer temperatures since 1980 are observed, but winter warming trends are significant at around 0.2–0.3 °C per decade. A large fraction of farmers perceived increases in annual rainfall despite instrumental records indicating no significant trends, a finding that may be related to greater perceived water availability associated with irrigation growth. A greater fraction of farmers perceived rainfall increases in Marlborough, where irrigation growth has been most substantial. We find those classes of farmers more likely to have irrigation were also significantly more likely to perceive an increase in annual rainfall. Furthermore, we demonstrate that perceptions of changing climate – regardless of their accuracy – are correlated with increased belief in climate change and an increased concern for future climate impacts. Those farmers that believe climate change is occurring and is human induced are more likely to perceive temperature increases than farmers who believe climate change is not occurring and is not human induced. These results suggest that perceptions are influenced by a variety of personal and environmental factors, including infrastructure, which may in turn alter decisions about climate adaptation.