The Journal of Extension -

December 2015 // Volume 53 // Number 6 // Commentary // v53-6comm1

Commentaries conform to JOE submission standards and provide an opportunity for Extension professionals to exchange perspectives and ideas.

Envisioning New Roles for Land-Grant University Extension: Lessons Learned from Climate Change Outreach in the Midwest

Recent surveys with farmers, Extension personnel, and agricultural advisors reveal interesting findings about climate change beliefs and who people trust for climate related information. Based on these results this article discusses a new direction for land-grant university Extension and research in addressing issues related to climate change and agriculture.

Linda Stalker Prokopy
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources
Purdue University
West Lafayette, Indiana

Rebecca Power
North Central Region Water Network
University of Wisconsin-Extension
Madison, Wisconsin

Consequences of climate change are likely to be severe for agriculture. Extension should be helping stakeholders address this issue (Morris, Megalos, Vuola, Adams, D., Monroe, 2014). Towards that end, we have been working together for over 4 years on a USDA-NIFA funded project called "Useful to Usable (U2U)" that is developing climate information for corn producers in the North Central Region ( As part of this project, we have conducted surveys with farmers, Extension personnel, and agricultural advisors. We have broadly defined agricultural advisors for the purpose of the study and surveyed state agency staff (Departments of Agriculture, Departments of Environment), Federal agency staff (NRCS and FFA), county agency staff (Soil and Water Conservation Districts), agricultural bankers, Certified Crop Advisors, and input dealers among others. Surveyed farmers managed over 80 acres of corn and grossed $100,000 in 2011; operators of small farms are not included in the analysis. Extension educators surveyed were in agriculture and natural resources program areas.

Beliefs, Influence, and Trust

Our surveys revealed several interesting findings that suggest new directions for Extension in our region.

  1. Land-grant university Extension educators do not believe in anthropogenic climate change at the same level as university scientists (Prokopy, Morton, Arbuckle, Mase, & Wilke, 2015b; see Table 1). This reveals a troubling disconnect between climate science and Extension, which has a critical role in disseminating the best science to the public and effectively conveying the needs of the public to university researchers.
  2. Medium- and large-sized corn farmers are most influenced in their farm management decisions by Certified Crop Advisors and input dealers. A full 40% of farmers who responded to our farmer survey said they had no contact with Extension or were not influenced by them. Certified Crop Advisors and input dealers were cited as having a much greater influence (Davidson, Suddick, Rice, & Prokopy, 2015; see Figure 1). It is important to note that influence is not the same as trust, and other studies have found that farmers in the Midwest trust Extension more than they trust other groups (Campbell Hibbs et al. 2014; Mase et al. in press).

The diversity of advisors that we surveyed trust Extension more than they trust any other group for climate related information (Prokopy et al. 2015a; see Figure 2).

Table 1.
Influence of Different Entities on Corn Producers in Midwestern United States

Note: Excerpt from Prokopy et al. 2015b. CSCAP is the Corn-Based Cropping Systems Coordinated Agricultural Project ( funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Figure 1.
Influence of Different Entities on Corn Producers in Midwestern United States

Note: Excerpt from Davidson et al. 2015. Results of a 2012 survey of 4778 medium- to large sized corn producers in the Midwestern United States, conducted by scientists from U2U and the CSCAP. Results presented are in response to the question, "Please indicate how influential the following groups and individuals are when you make decisions about agricultural practices and strategies." More information about the methodology of this survey and survey findings can be found in Arbuckle et al. (2013), Tyndall et al. (2015), and Loy et al (2013). FSA is the USDA Farm Services Agency. NRCS is the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Figure 2.
Non Extension Agricultural Advisors' Trust in Different Groups as Sources of Information about Climate Change

Note: Excerpt from Prokopy et al. 2015a. This diverging stacked bar chart presents the trust data sorted by "Strongly trust." The axis is the count of the number of respondents. Bars to the right of 0 indicate trust, and bars to the left of 0 indicate distrust.

The Future of Land-Grant Extension and Research

What does this mean for the future of land-grant university Extension and research in addressing issues related to climate change and agriculture? While our research relates to research and education on anthropogenic climate change, we suggest this research asks us to consider the following.

  1. There needs to be more ongoing communication between land-grant university researchers (with and without Extension appointments) and Extension educators. Land-grant university researchers need to do a better job communicating climate-related scientific findings to Extension educators. Similarly, Extension educators need to communicate to researchers what they are hearing from farmers, agricultural advisors, and agriculture and conservation agencies and organizations—those with a stake in research results. Extension educators can help ensure that research is both meeting user needs and is communicated effectively.
  2. There needs to be a strong institutional commitment to ensure that both university researchers and Extension educators are rewarded in the tenure and promotion system for building these relationships. While there are strong examples across the country of researchers and educators collaborating on climate-related programming in agriculture, land-grant university administrators can facilitate more consistent collaboration by emphasizing the value of integrated research and Extension in tenure, promotion, and other reward systems.
  3. Extension educators need to continue cultivating relationships with agricultural advisors and expand programs that emphasize agricultural advisors as recipients of university research and tools. Given that farmers and agricultural advisors trust Extension, and given that Extension has fewer "boots on the ground" in many states, strengthening programming to agricultural advisors can maximize impact and be a strategic allocation of land-grant university resources.

Climate-related information is critical for farmers to sustain the production of food, fiber, fuel, and to keep rural communities that rely on agriculture strong. Extension has the capacity to provide leadership in translating climate-related information for farmers. We hope that research coming out of U2U and the other projects we describe above can inform Extension's future and benefit the people land-grant universities serve.


This work is part of "Useful to Usable (U2U): Transforming Climate Variability and Change Information for Cereal Crop Producers" and is supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2011-68002-30220 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Project website: The U2U project team is comprised of faculty, staff, and students from the following Land Grant and other Universities: Purdue University; Iowa State University; Michigan State University; South Dakota State University; University of Illinois; University of Michigan; University of Missouri; University of Nebraska-Lincoln; and University of Wisconsin.


Arbuckle, J., Prokopy, L., Haigh, T., Hobbs, J., Knoot, T., Knutson, C., … Widhalm, M. (2013). Climate change beliefs, concerns, and attitudes toward adaptation and mitigation among farmers in the Midwestern United States. Climatic Change, 943-950.

Campbell Hibbs, A., Kahl, D. W., PytlikZillig, L., Champion, B., Abdel-Monem, T., Steffensmeier, T. R., … & Hubbard, K. (2013). Agricultural producer perceptions of climate change and climate education needs for the Central Great Plains. Journal of Extension, 52(3), On-line], 52(3). Available at:

Davidson, E., Suddick, E., Rice, C., & Prokopy, L. (2015). More food, low pollution (Mo Fo Lo Po): A grand challenge for the 21st century. Journal of Environment Quality, 305-305.

Loy, A., Hobbs, J., Arbuckle, J.G., Morton, L.W., Prokopy, L.S., Haigh, T., … Widhalm, M. (2013). Farmer perspectives on agriculture and weather variability in the corn belt: A statistical atlas. Cropping Systems Coordinated Agricultural Project 0153-2013. Ames, IA.

Mase, A. S., Babin, N. L., Prokopy, L. S., Genskow, K. (In Press). Trust in sources of soil and water quality information: Implications for environmental outreach and education. Journal of the American Water Resources Association.

Morris, L., Megalos, M., Vuola, A., Adams, D., & Monroe, M. (2014). Cooperative Extension and climate change: Successful program delivery. Journal of Extension [On-line], 52(2). Available at:

Prokopy, L., Carlton, J., Arbuckle, J., Haigh, T., Lemos, M., Mase, A., … Power, R. (2015a). Extension′s role in disseminating information about climate change to agricultural stakeholders in the United States. Climatic Change, 261-272.

Prokopy, L., Morton, L., Arbuckle, J., Mase, A., & Wilke, A. (2015b). Agricultural stakeholder views on climate change: Implications for conducting research and outreach. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 181-190.

Tyndall, J., Arbuckle, J. G., Haigh, T., Knutson, C., Morton, L. W., Stalker Prokopy, L., & Widhalm, M. (2015). New Atlas features corn belt farmers' perspectives on agriculture and climate. Journal of Extension, [On-line], 53(1). Available at: