Climate change and farmers’ livelihoods

Posted By: Friends of the Earth Canada Comments Off on Climate change and farmers’ livelihoods

Beatrice Olivastri, CEO, Friends of the Earth Canada.Farmers across Canada have been dealing with changing weather patterns in recent years. From droughts and floods in the Prairies to storms and blights in the Maritimes, people who rely on the land to make a living are suddenly being forced to adapt.

Over the past few months one of our volunteer researchers, Bryan Dale, has been looking into these issues. So far, his investigation has proven to be very revealing, as farmers from across the country have shared diverse and troubling stories about how climate change is affecting them.

In Ontario, for example, apple farmers are struggling through one of the worst growing years in recent memory. Due to an unusually long period of warm weather in March, followed by a spring frost, the buds of most apple trees were killed off, leaving farmers with 15 to 20 per cent of their usual yield. Producers in the southwest of the province have reported that this may be the worst climatic event they’ve experienced since 1945.

On coastal areas of British Columbia apple farmers have also experienced problems, but for a different reason. In that region, a severe infestation of tent caterpillars devastated crops and forced farmers to cancel a long-standing apple festival. As in Ontario, they are left hoping that these types of extreme circumstances will not develop into a pattern that would be repeated with any frequency.

Yet this may be just what is in store for farmers. According to a researcher with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Quebec, scientists are developing a range of models to predict how anticipated fluctuations in weather patterns and infestations by pests may affect various crops. While some vegetables may benefit from our changing climate, there is certainly many that will suffer, compelling agricultural producers to change both how and what they grow.

It is already clear that many farmers are paying the price of having to adapt. Apart from crop yields that have plummeted due to extreme weather events, most producers have noticed that the seasons are changing. According to one organic grower, “Due to weather volatility, we are seeing a lot of farmers add greenhouses and hoop-houses to their operations, to help create more stable environments. Certainly, the Maritime farmers are seeing strong storms from hurricanes. Blight and fusarium are also quite common now.”

Friends of the Earth will continue to look further into these issues, including by exploring how small-scale and organic farmers may be disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of increasingly severe and frequent climatic events. We will also examine whether existing government compensation programs may be insufficient to help farmers adapt as they need to. Throughout, our research will consider the political or legal recourses these farmers may have, and how we can support them.

If trends such as those witnessed this year are to continue, agricultural producers will certainly need the support. Whether it is livestock farmers who do not have enough hay to feed their animals due to drought, or maple syrup farmers who are dealing with a noticeable decline in the quality of their product, across Canada people are wondering what is in store.

And, of course, consumers need to be concerned about these trends as well. As the bumper stickers say, farmers feed cities.

Beatrice Olivastri

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