THE CHANG­ING LAND­SCAPE

Truro Daily News - - COLCHESTER COUNTY -

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.

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