Farm­ers af­fected by cli­mate change

Cli­mate-re­lated con­cerns part of on­go­ing in­dus­try risk assess­ment

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - EDITORIAL - BY ASH­LEY FITZ­PATRICK

Farm­ers in New­found­land and Labrador are al­ready talk­ing about risks for their business as a re­sult of cli­mate change. Not ev­ery­one in the sec­tor has ac­cepted the clear sci­ence, but ex­pe­ri­ence is forc­ing the in­dus­try as a whole to the ta­ble re­gard­less, par­tic­u­larly for farms with suc­ces­sion plans.

Cli­mate change fore­casts would seem to sug­gest good news for agri­cul­ture here in the com­ing decades, with an ex­tended grow­ing pe­riod and fewer frost days — but there is a caveat, as on­go­ing changes also pro­vide con­di­tions ripe for shifts in dis­ease, ex­panded range of some pests, heavy storm rains and soil ero­sion.

On the cran­berry farm

Sean Dyke is a cran­berry farmer, op­er­at­ing the Peters River Cran­berry Farm in Wood­dale South. He said he’s con­cerned with the idea of more sud­den, heavy rain­falls.

“Though I’ve only been in op­er­a­tion for seven years, I have ex­pe­ri­enced on two oc­ca­sions floods from rain storms which I have won­dered if they are a nor­mal oc­cur­rence or as a re­sult of cli­mate change,” Dyke stated in an emailed re­sponse to ques­tions.

“The first was hur­ri­cane Igor, which in­un­dated our cran­berry fields (which were un­der con­struc­tion) with about a foot of wa­ter, and the sec­ond was last fall’s Thanks­giv­ing Day storm which washed away two of my newly con­structed berms and filled parts of my fields with de­bris.”

Both events were be­yond av­er­age storms and, in the lat­ter case, he said, an ac­cess road was washed out and re­mained im­pass­able for a cou­ple of days.

Dyke sees him­self hav­ing to in­stall even more, higher berms in prepa­ra­tion for fu­ture storm events.

In the green­house

Kim This­tle co-owns and op­er­ates The Green­house and Gar­den Store in Lit­tle Rapids and said cli­mate change is an every­day topic at her home and business. She grows plants for flowerbeds and land­scap­ing, but also grows veg­eta­bles.

“We have al­ready had to change the way we do things where ir­ri­ga­tion, length of sea­son and crops planted are con­cerned,” she stated.

She has been ex­plor­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties in an ex­tended grow­ing sea­son — ex­per­i­ment­ing with new plants and crops that would not have been con­sid­ered 10 years ago, like sweet potato and gin­ger.

The flower business has changed also, she sug­gested, given some con­sumers are keep­ing out­door plants, in­clud­ing bas­kets, longer into the fall.

Com­ing around to spring, she said she used to ex­pect any late frost in mid-june, but the land­mark in her area is shift­ing ear­lier and ear­lier.

At the U-pick

At the Camp­bell­ton Berry Farm in Camp­bell­ton, Philip Thorn­ley said for suc­cess in a given year he’s look­ing at tem­per­a­ture, rain­fall, fer­til­ity and any one-off events like frost. If any one is not right, it can cut into the yield.

Gen­er­ally, con­di­tions have been chang­ing, Thorn­ley said in an in­ter­view, but the main thing he’s found is less pre­dictabil­ity than in past years.

“What I can say is it’s cer­tainly more vari­able and that vari­abil­ity has a huge im­pact on farm­ing. I don’t know if the gen­eral pub­lic re­al­izes just how much,” he said.

Be­ing pre­pared for the vari­abil­ity re­quires more on the part of farm­ers — diver­si­fy­ing prod­ucts, adding to wa­ter-han­dling sys­tems (for ex­am­ple, ir­ri­ga­tion and wa­ter re­ten­tion ponds) and other mea­sures. It will all come at a cost, on top of the re­al­ity of higher risk of over­whelm­ing and dam­ag­ing weather events.

“What it means is food is go­ing to get more ex­pen­sive, be­cause if we’re to cover and mit­i­gate for those dis­as­ters, we as farm­ers must put more in,” Thorn­ley said.

“So­ci­ety has un­der­val­ued farm­ing for way too long and is go­ing to have to put the re­sources in, if they want food con­sis­tently.”

On emis­sions and eval­u­at­ing risks

Merv Wise­man, pres­i­dent of the New­found­land and Labrador Fed­er­a­tion of Agri­cul­ture, was in St. John’s last month with then­provin­cial Land Re­sources min­is­ter Steve Crocker and fed­eral Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Lawrence Ma­caulay to an­nounce a new risk-assess­ment project for this prov­ince’s farm­ers.

Wise­man was asked by The Tele­gram if the eval­u­a­tion would en­com­pass risks ex­tend­ing from cli­mate change.

“It’s a big one,” he said, ex­plain­ing it is part of the on­go­ing project.

He said the pol­i­tics of cli­mate change and its many re­lated top­ics also formed part of the dis­cus­sions at the meet­ing of the Cana­dian Fed­er­a­tion of Agri­cul­ture, coin­cid­ing with the agri­cul­tural min­is­ters’ round­table the fed­eral and pro­vin­cial min­is­ters co-hosted at the time.

“Front and cen­tre on our agenda is how do we deal with cli­mate change is­sues?” Wise­man said. “How do we, as farm­ers, work against the back­drop of cli­mate change and the ex­pec­ta­tion that we re­duce green­house gas?”

In terms of con­tri­bu­tions to green­house gas emis­sions, car­bon diox­ide is re­leased from cul­ti­va­tion of the soil, methane comes from cat­tle and live­stock ma­nure, and ni­trous ox­ide comes from use of fer­til­iz­ers. But na­tion­ally and provin­cially, emis­sions from the oil sec­tor and transportation sec­tor are greater then emis­sions from agri­cul­ture.

In some prov­inces, agri­cul­ture’s share of to­tal green­house gas emis­sions runs higher. Man­i­toba, for ex­am­ple, at­tributes nearly 30 per cent of to­tal emis­sions to agri­cul­ture. In New­found­land and Labrador, emis­sions from agri­cul­ture are ac­tu­ally out­stripped by emis­sions from solid waste dis­posal (think gases es­cap­ing as garbage de­com­poses at land­fill sites). In 2015, New­found­land emit­ted 91 kilo­tons of car­bon diox­ide equiv­a­lent from agri­cul­ture, com­pared with 776 kilo­tons from waste.

But Wise­man said the fed­er­a­tion lo­cally is keep­ing watch for any blan­ket pol­icy.

Farm­ers in this prov­ince have al­ready shown a will­ing­ness to help re­duce emis­sions, he said, and the of­fi­cial po­si­tion is any leg­is­lated re­quire­ments in­tro­duced (as a hy­po­thet­i­cal) be cost neu­tral, given the fi­nan­cial pres­sures farm­ers al­ready face.

He said in­for­ma­tion gath­ered through the on­go­ing risk assess­ment project will be used in de­vel­op­ing fu­ture pro­grams to sup­port a more re­silient agri­cul­ture in­dus­try, in­clud­ing con­sid­er­a­tion of cli­mate change.


Merv Wise­man, pres­i­dent of the New­found­land and Labrador Fed­er­a­tion of Agri­cul­ture, was in St. John’s re­cently with then-pro­vin­cial Land Re­sources min­is­ter Steve Crocker and fed­eral Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Lawrence Ma­caulay to an­nounce a new risk-assess­ment project for this prov­ince’s farm­ers. Wise­man spoke with The Tele­gram about risks in­creas­ing due to cli­mate change.

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