Climate Change Adaptation for the Agriculture Sector

Climate Change Adaptation for the Agriculture Sector

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) is developing climate change strategy in an attempt to address the domestic and international climate change mitigation and adaptation challenges and opportunities. As part of this exercise, AAFC is holding a series of regional workshops across Canada to inform the fed’s development of a road map for climate change including identifying priority actions that can be taken to become more resilient to long-term climate changes.

I participated in one of these workshops this week in Vancouver with a large group dominated by government employees, and few industry representatives.

I believe we need to view the climate adaptation strategy holistically. The ability to adapt to any situation is strengthened by the fiscal strength of the sector and individual operations. In that light, all levels of government should re-examine policies and regulations that are undermining the viability of agriculture in Canada. For example, meat processing regulations have greatly hindered the profit potential and market outlets for livestock producers. Why should farmers worry about adapting their operations to changing climate if they won’t be in business next year?

It’s been said that diversification is the only free lunch. And diversity is a hedge against unplanned change. So we need to look to crop choice and the diversity of growing conditions employed to hedge against climate change. For example, if we focus again on the livestock sector, one strategy to adapt to cyclical drought is through blending forage production in pastures and silvopastures. In a dry year, tree cover will conserve soil moisture and understory forages can outproduce plants grown in the open.

We might also expect increased wind and water erosion potential with episodic drought and flooding. We need to buffer these extremes to preserve the productive landbase and protect other resource values. In that vein, we should move aggressively to increase the use of riparian buffers and shelterbelts in Canada and actively provide incentives to manage and rejuvenate old shelterbelts. A big step forward needed to increase producer adoption of agroforestry plantings is to eliminate the punitive regulations and property tax regimes that discourage their use. Agroforestry is a key for future production systems because it helps to both adapt to and mitigate (e.g. sequester carbon) climate change and offers diversification opportunities for non-timber forest resources.

Finally, we need to plan transition strategies for both cropping and conservation plantings. Priority areas should be those at the highest risk for radical shifts in ecological amplitude and thus the basic suite of suitable cropping opportunities. For example, if the sub-boreal belt shifts northward with warming, there will a host of species not suited to warmer, drier conditions, but the larger temperate belt will have changing growth patterns but it won’t render the crop options totally irrelevant. Impacts on weeds, diseases, insects, irrigation requirements and growing season (timing planting and harvest) will all need careful examination and adjustments to the current set of best management practice recommendations.

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