THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE
ATLANTIC CANADIAN FARMERS HAVE THREE MANTRAS TO LIVE BY: MANAGE, ADAPT AND DIVERSIFY. THESE ARE THE FEW WAYS THEY CAN MAINTAIN CONTROL IN AN INCREASINGLY VOLATILE ENVIRONMENT.
In the future, Atlantic Canada can expect slightly warmer average temperatures and wetter growing seasons with the majority of that precipitation coming in more severe storms.
David Burton is a professor at the Dalhousie Agricultural Campus in Truro, N.S., is focused on helping farmers prepare for climate change.
“The big challenge, the major problem that agriculture in Atlantic Canada is going to face, is the variability of the climate: more intense rainfalls, longer periods of drought, earlier frosts, later frosts. So our biggest challenge in agriculture is to take advantage of that opportunity of a changing climate by managing weather,” Burton said. “Every year is a crazy year now.”
Burton’s latest work involves ways to mitigate and adapt farming to climate change by reducing greenhouse gases produced by agriculture and increasing soil organic matter — the latter is more important than a layman might realize, he said.
More living organic matter in soil will allow it to retain more moisture, prevent run off and erosion and increase fertility.
“By increasing the soil organic matter content across Atlantic Canada, we can increase the resiliency of those systems to climate change,” said Burton.
How do you prepare for something so completely outside your control as a late spring frost?
Burton’s answer: Manage, adapt and diversify.
“How do you respond to a changing climate? Well, how does biology respond? It increases diversity. Biology always resorts to diversity as a way to become more resilient. Resiliency is a word you’re going to be hearing more and more and more.”
OPPORTUNITIES IN CLIMATE CHANGE
With a longer growing season, farmers can expect to grow new crops they have not traditionally been able to here.
Pulses are not traditional crops on P.E.I., but Island farmers went from planting just 750 acres of pulses in 2016 to more than 8,000 acres in 2018.
Burton said he expects to see a lot more of that kind of diversification in the future on the Island and elsewhere in the region as local conditions allow.
How much work is being done to respond to climate change?
“I think there is a ton of work going into it. But I don’t think most of the people who are doing that work would say they are doing it in response to climate change,” said Burton.
Farmers and almost everyone in the industry tend to be concerned with next year’s crop, rather than the crop 20 years from now. Climate change is just too big of a concept for many people to feel like they can have any impact on it. But that doesn’t mean dealing with those short-term problems doesn’t help with climate change.
“In the end, those are solutions to the longer climate change issue. That’s the problem with climate change: it’s just too intangible, in all sectors, it’s too intangible to actually be a business objective.
“No one event is climate change.”
SUPPORT FOR FARMERS LOOKING TO ADAPT
In looking for ways for the Atlantic Canadian to adapt to and deal with the numerous effects of climate change, there’s also the question of how to pay for it.
Whether it be support from government programs or passing additional costs on to consumers, how much farmers get paid is another important factor.
“It’s something we’ve got to make part of the conversation,” Burton said. “Increasingly as the consuming public becomes more aware of these issues they make buying decisions that help producers be able to afford to deal with these things. Because that’s the big problem — agriculture is often the price taker, so ‘here’s a dozen things you can do to adapt to climate change but we’re not going to give you another nickel for your product.’ That’s a really tough thing to sell to the banker when you’re trying to get your mortgage renewed,” said Burton.
Without adaptive efforts, a 2.5 degree increase in temperature is likely to result in a 0.5 to 2 per cent decrease in gross domestic product globally.