Farmers can adapt to climate change, but they need the necessary tools to help them do it, a conference in Winnipeg last week heard.
If they don’t get them, agriculture in Western Canada will take a big step backwards, Barry Routledge, a farmer from Lenore, Manitoba, told the gathering.
Farmers will not take unnecessary risks in adapting to different growing conditions that a changing climate may bring, said Routledge.
“If I’m going to play this game in the future, I’m not going to put at risk my savings I have for the future of my family in order to try something that may not provide returns,” he said following a panel discussion on agricultural adaption to climate change.
Farmers are highly adaptable and can adjust quickly to changing conditions, Routledge said. In his presentation, he described several recent cases in which Manitoba farmers were ahead of the curve in implementing new crops.
One example was Grandin, which went from zero acres in 1992 to 200,000 acres the following year despite being an unregistered variety, because of its resistance to fusarium.
Another was field peas, which started out in the Red River Valley, but shifted rapidly to other growing regions of the province when disease problems emerged on the valley’s wet, heavy clay soils.
Soybeans have exploded in acreage since 2000 with the arrival of varieties suited to Manitoba growing conditions.
Those are examples of farmers taking the lead in changing the complexion of crop production in Manitoba, said Routledge.
But producers will need improved genetics, specialized equipment and more research if they’re expected to continue doing that, he said.
“Right now I don’t have the tools at my disposal on a wide range of crops or in the machinery sector to be able to adapt quickly enough to changing conditions.”
The March 4 conference titled “Adapting Agriculture to a Changing Prairie Landscape” heard presentations detailing rapid seasonal temperature rises in North America, particularly on the Great Central Plains.
Climate change has come under increasing scrutiny lately with questions arising about the accuracy of global warming science.
But the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change, a scientific body, is clear that North America will get much warmer during this century, said Danny Blair, who directs the University of Winnipeg’s Climate Studies Centre.
Climate models predict North America will experience “much warmer” winter and summer temperatures between 2010 and 2039, “very warm” temperatures from 2040 to 2069 and “remarkable temperature changes” from 2070 to 2099, Blair said in a presentation.
Precipitation models are less clear. It’s uncertain which areas will be drier, which will be wetter and by how much, Blair said.
Paul Bulloch, a University of Manitoba soil scientist, said climate change “depends really where you’re standing whether it’s good or bad.”
Farmers in the Peace River region or northern Saskatchewan may have opportunities to grow warm weather crops they can’t produce now. But producers in South Dakota may have to get used to prolonged droughts, Bulloch said.
He agreed with Routledge that farmers, with a long tradition of adapting to changing conditions, can adjust to climate change.
“Farmers don’t have to prove anything. We look at the stats and we know that they can adapt.”[email protected]