Seeing is not always believing: crop loss and climate change perceptions among farm advisors
As climate change is expected to significantly affect agricultural systems globally, agricultural farm advisors have been increasingly recognized as an important resource in helping farmers address these challenges. While there have been many studies exploring the climate change belief and risk perceptions as well as behaviors of both farmers and agricultural farm advisors, there are very few studies that have explored how these perceptions relate to actual climate impacts in agriculture. Here we couple survey data from United States Department of Agriculture farm service employees (n = 6, 514) with historical crop loss data across the United States to explore the relationship of actual climate-related crop losses on farm to farm advisor perceptions of climate change and future farmer needs. Using structural equation modelling we find that among farm advisors that work directly with farms on disaster and crop loss issues, there is a significant positive relationship between crop loss and perceived weather variability changes, while across all farm advisors crop loss is associated with reduced likelihood to believe in anthropogenic climate change. Further, we find that weather variability perceptions are the most consistently and highly correlated with farm advisors' perceptions about the need for farm adaptation and future farmer needs. These results suggest that seeing crop loss may not lead to climate change belief, but may drive weather variability perceptions, which in turn affect farm adaptation perceptions. This lends further evidence to the debate over terminology in climate change communication and outreach, suggesting that weather variability may be the most salient among agricultural advisors.