Impact of Climate Change on Canadian Agriculture

So how will climate change impact Canada and Canadian agriculture?

Numerous studies of the impact of climate change suggest that most regions of Canada are projected to warm during the next 60 years.

A changing climate can have both positive and negative impacts on agriculture. These changes can impact a number of different levels of the sector ranging from individual plants and animals, right up to entire global networks.

Opportunities

Ripening wheat plants

This warming may provide opportunities for agriculture in certain regions with an expansion of the growing season to go along with milder and shorter winters. This could increase productivity and allow the use of new and potentially more profitable crops.

For a high-latitude country like Canada, the warming is expected to be more pronounced than the global average. Northern regions and the southern and central Prairies will see more warming than other regions. Most regions will likely be warmer with longer frost-free seasons and increased evaporation and plant transpiration from the surface into the atmosphere.

These warmer temperatures would also benefit livestock production in the form of lower feed requirements, increased survival rates of the young and lower energy costs.

Climate change could improve soil quality by enhancing carbon sequestration and reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases by changes to land-use from annual crop production to perennial crops and grazing lands.

Using information produced by the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis global circulation model for the three Prairie Provinces under two conditions, current climate and future climate, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) scientists predicted in 2004 that under a future climate, on average, high temperatures would increase by 2ºC to 3ºC and low temperatures increase by about 3ºC.

When compared to the current climate, the model predicted that precipitation was to increase by three to seven per cent.

The results suggested that Alberta would benefit the most from increased summer and winter precipitation. However, eastern Saskatchewan and Manitoba would experience little change or smaller increases. Since there is a growing-season moisture deficit in much of the Prairie region, even slight declines in the availability of moisture could significantly harm crop production.

Challenges

However, one of the concerns is that climate change could have significant negative impacts including the increased intensity and frequency of droughts and violent storms.

Cow and calf pair

As the frequency of events like droughts increases under climate change, crop yields would decrease. This would increase the vulnerability of producers to climate change, particularly in semi-arid regions of Canada.

Extreme events like the 2001 and 2002 droughts and floods of 2010 and 2011 can have a devastating impact on crop yields where yields could be reduced by as much as 50 per cent of the average yields during normal or more suitable growing conditions.

Warmer summers could also cause problems for livestock producers related to heat-wave deaths. This is especially true in poultry operations. Other impacts could be reduced milk production and reduced reproduction in the dairy industry, as well as, reduced weight gain in beef cattle.

In addition, droughts and floods could reduce pasture availability and the production of forage, forcing producers to find alternative feed sources or reduce their herd size.

There are several possible effects climate change could also have on crop pests and disease. These would include increased weed growth due to higher levels of atmospheric Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and an increased prevalence of pests and pathogens in livestock and crops. The increased range, frequency and severity of insect and disease infestations are also potential impacts.

While these changes will not have large effects on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from crop production systems; they could cause an increase in energy use associated with the manufacture, transportation and application of pesticides.

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