Farmers Have An Edge On The Rest Of Us When It Comes To Water Knowledge, But They Still Have Blind Spots

Water is essential for almost every dimension of farming and raising livestock, from determining when to plant and harvest to irrigating and fertilizing crops throughout the growing season. So it’s not surprising that farmers are often more knowledgeable and action-oriented when it comes to water resources than the broader public, according to two national surveys.

This past year, the Farm Journal’s Trust in Food initiative collaborated with the Water Main on a survey of farmers that directly mirrored questions from a nationally representative survey that APM Research Lab conducted, also in collaboration with the Water Main. Both surveys covered questions related to knowledge of water-related issues, as well as feelings of connection to water, and actions taken to potentially protect water resources.

Together, the two surveys offer a rare window into how the views of farmers—those whose livelihood brings them into direct daily connect with natural resources—compare with the views of the general public.

In many places, the answers given by the farmers surveyed by Trust in Food were similar to those given by the general public. Below are a few places that farmers’ views diverge.

Knowledge about water resources

Farmers were twice as likely as the general public to know where their tap water comes from (93% to 47%, respectively). This is probably because farmers are more likely to live in rural areas and obtain water from their own wells. On the whole, farmers are also less troubled than the general public about the safety of their own personal drinking water. While 30% of American adults worry about their drinking water “a great deal,” only 16% of farmers said so. Slightly more than two in 10 from each group also worried “a fair amount.”

Additionally, about two-thirds of farmers correctly answered the question that storm water typically flows to “rivers, lakes and wetlands,” while only about half of all Americans knew the answer to that question. Because storm water often transports pollutants such as road salt, eroded soil and trash—knowledge about this process can help Americans take action to protect bodies of water and aquatic life.

While they proved themselves a savvy bunch overall, farmers do have some blind spots about their water knowledge: They are even more likely than the general public to (wrongly) believe that manufacturing is the largest source of water pollution. In reality, evidence suggests their own industry, agriculture, is the largest source among the list provided in both surveys.

Concern for water resources

Farmers and the general public are very similar in their water-related concerns (especially considering the surveys’ margins of error). For example, 88% of farmers are either “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the future of America’s water resources—statistically similar with the 84% of the general public who expressed this. And the 86% of farmers who are concerned about the future of the nation’s drinking water infrastructure closely mirrors the 82% of those among all Americans who worry over this. Whether they live on the farm or in a high-rise, most Americans are united in their concerns about water and the systems that deliver it to us.

Action on behalf of water resources

Nearly all farmers, 96%, indicate that they do things in their daily lives to conserve water. This far exceeds the 72% who do so among the general public. Perhaps using water in their daily working rhythms reinforces the need to be cautious with this limited resource.

In addition, farmers are in step with Americans overall in seeing water issues as important at the ballot box. Forty-seven percent of both groups indicate that, when deciding who to vote for, it is “very important” for a candidate to say that taking care of water resources is a priority for them.

In sum, the farmers surveyed by Trust in Food appear to be equally concerned as the rest of America about the water-related issues facing the nation. But as a group, America’s farmers are somewhat better informed about water topics and slightly more action-oriented when it comes to conserving and protecting water. They could teach the rest of America a thing or two.


Read the detailed methodology used in the nationally representative survey here and the methodology of the survey of agricultural producers here.

This article was written by Craig Helmstetter, managing partner for the APM Research Lab.