What will Prairie agriculture look like in the year 2050?
That’s something a diverse group of experts and researchers set out to determine in a Green Paper presented at the Alberta Institute of Agrologists, titled Moving Toward Prairie Agriculture 2050.
“Our future includes change from a number of perspectives, we understand some better than others, and we need to expect that there will be wild cards,” said Karin Wittenberg, dean of agriculture at the University of Manitoba and a contributor to the Green Paper.
Not only will Prairie producers be operating under different conditions in 2050, they will also be faced with an increased demand for food, she said. And not just any food, food that is high in quality and protein.
“We know that the population is going to be increasing, we expect over nine billion people by 2050, we also know that there are a number of projections around increased per capita income by 2050,” said the dean, speaking at the recent Crop Connect conference in Winnipeg. “What that means is that in the next 40 years, we’re going to be producing as much food as we have produced in the last 3,000 years.”
Brian Amiro said that climate change will present both challenges and opportunities for those producing that food.
“Our global climate has been warming, if you look at the global temperature over the last 140 years,” he told producers. “And the most important thing is realizing that it is caused by human activities.”
Now is the time to tackle the causes of climate change, while also adapting farm practices for the changes that are inevitable, he said.
It is expected that global temperatures will increase somewhere between 2 degrees and 3 degrees over the next 34 years. And while that will likely extend the Prairie growing season, it could also lead to more severe and less predictable weather.
“We say there are actually four different elements that we need to have severe weather; one is going to be low-level moisture, and if we enhance that low-level moisture, that really does make those storms more powerful,” said Amiro, adding that climate change has been tied to an acceleration of the hydrological cycle, something that can lead to an increase in low-level moisture.
And while some areas may end up being more wet, other parts of the Prairies could become drier as higher temperatures increase the rate of evaporation.
Still, both Amiro and Wittenberg note that Canada will fare much better than other areas of the planet, particularly the Prairie region, which is currently responsible for more than 80 per cent of the country’s agricultural output.
“Our citizens have to understand that Canada may be one of the most environmentally friendly places to produce energy and protein, and that Canadians have an obligation to help the rest of the world,” said Wittenberg. However, that goal can only be realized through adaptation, innovative government policy and a strong social licence to operate, she added.
As for what crops are likely to be grown on the Canadian Prairies in 2050, Amiro said it will be similar to today with an emphasis on cereals and canola.
“We’ll see a lot more soybeans coming into the province of course, and a lot more corn as well,” he said. New breeding in the coming decades could add other crops to Prairie rotations as well.
But farmers won’t be the only ones who enjoy a warmer climate.
“Pests will likely increase,” Amiro said. “Weeds actually seem to win out with higher CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, most diseases, fungi, bacteria, they actually would like that warmer type of weather… insects are the same way.”