The Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll is always fascinating. But one question was especially illuminating in this year’s survey. Farmers were asked, “compared to other farm operations in your area, how well do you think your farm operation is performing in controlling soil erosion?” Seventeen percent (17%) rated themselves far above average. Fifty-two percent, yes that is 52%, rated themselves above average. Thirty percent (30%) rated themselves as average. One percent (1%) rated themselves below average, and absolutely no one (0%) rated themselves as far below average. Talk about an example of illusory superiority! News flash, 69% of farmers cannot be above average, with 30% average, leaving only 1% below average. Of course this is statistically impossible.
Answering another question, 63% of farmers rated themselves above average in controlling nutrient runoff/loss into waterways, with only 2% rating themselves below average. That means 35% of farmers rated themselves as average.
And we wonder why farmers are not implementing conservation. Really? Why would farmers implement more conservation when they already think they are doing a bang-up job? Let’s just clear the air. Most farmers have no idea how much soil or nutrients they are losing. It is hard, even impossible, to visually detect the amount of soil loss and nutrient loss.
For voluntary conservation to be successful, we MUST be serious about conservation planning. The first step in conservation planning is identifying the problems. Farmers need to know what levels of soil erosion they have; they need to know the level of nitrates leaching into the water below their fields. Certainly, it is easy to say farmers should know how much they are losing and they should know how to reduce or prevent it. But show me a survey of farmers that leads anyone to believe this is true. We need to give farmers the information and then help/expect them to act on it.
This feeling of illusory superiority is not unique to farmers. According to a study published in a Swedish Psychology journal (Acta Psychologica) a whopping 93% of Americans consider themselves above average drivers. It is really annoying to me that 93% of Americans think they drive better than I do.