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Prepare for climate change, conference told

Warmer winters will increase the risk of diseases and pests farmers haven’t had to deal with before

While climate change might extend the growing season in Canada’s northern regions, it will also bring challenges that farmers need to prepare for, says Ron Bonnet, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.

Weather patterns will be the most affected, he told the Food Security and Climate Change conference sponsored by the Canadian Climate Forum. While there is always the threat of prolonged droughts, “Canada will become wetter and warmer with changes in precipitation. The challenge for farmers is how can we adapt to this?”

Tile drainage can remove excess standing water, he added. “But warmer winters will bring a greater risk of disease and pests we haven’t encountered before. We won’t be able to count on the frost to get rid of them.”

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At the same time, the world’s demand for food will grow. “We’ll have to use every tool in the tool box to meet the need,” he said.

Pressure

Government plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will put pressure on farmers to change their practices, he noted. Many, such as no-till cropping to reduce fuel use and improve soil fertility as well as rotational grazing, are already widely practised. Farm environmental plans are common across the country.

“Governments need to be able to provide extension advice to farmers on ways to make their operations more environmentally friendly,” he added. Any controls or limits based on farmers “have to be transparent, understandable and equitable. “We need a national food strategy that brings everyone into the discussion,” he said. “We have to make sure the food policy lines up with consumer expectation.”

Don Lemmen, climate change research manager at Natural Resources Canada, said that for now, Canadian farmers need to adapt to climate change as transformational changes in energy use are well into the future.

“The impact of climate change on Canada is uncertain,” he added. However, the threat of rising world temperatures and weather destabilization is greater in the middle-latitude countries, where food production has already been affected. “Tropical and subtropical areas are becoming drier. There likely will be a decrease in agriculture yields depending on how countries adapt to climate change.”

Rising temperatures

A lot more research on rising world temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns is needed to help countries prepare adaptation plans.

While the upcoming meeting in Paris on climate change will be looking for international agreement on mitigation measures, most of the short-term focus will be on adapting to changing weather, he said.

Thomas Pedersen, chairman of the Climate Forum, said 2014 was the warmest year on record and “2015 will be at least as warm. Every degree rise in temperature increases the risk of erratic weather. Drier places will likely become drier and wetter ones wetter.

“We don’t want the Mediterranean area to become any drier, nor the interior of the North American continent,” he said. “Warmer areas already bear the fingerprints of climate change.”

The end result will be food shortages and then higher prices. One only has to remember food riots back in 2008 when global grain stocks hit all-time lows. This was in the midst of searing drought in Syria, which destabilized first that country and now many of its neighbours.

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