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(Canada in a Changing Climate)
Agriculture is inherently sensitive to climate… Without adaptation, climate change is generally problematic for agricultural production and for agricultural economies and communities; but with adaptation, vulnerability can be reduced…”
In 1998, the Canadian agriculture and agri-food industry generated approximately $95 billion in domestic revenue, and was the third largest employer in the country. Canada’s agri-food exports in 2000 were valued at $23.4 billion, accounting for 6.1% of total merchandise exports. Farming operations are spread across Canada, with the greatest area of farmland located in the Prairie Provinces (Table 1). Cattle and dairy farms account for the highest amounts of farm cash receipts, although wheat, canola, and other cereals and oilseeds are also important contributors. Although agriculture is a vital component of the Canadian economy, only a small percentage of our country is actually farmed. Due to limitations imposed primarily by climate and soils, just 7% of Canada’s landmass is used for agricultural purposes. Climate is also a strong control on the variation in year-to-year production. For example, the drought that plagued much of Canada during 2001 seriously impacted farm operations. Water shortages and heat stress in some regions of Saskatchewan and Alberta have significantly lowered crop yields and threatened the availability of feed and water for livestock. Some other impacts of the 2001 drought are listed in Table 2. In certain areas of the Prairies, 2001 was part of a multiyear drought that extended into the summer of 2002.
Many believe that the consequences of the 2001 drought may be indicative of what the agriculture sector in Canada can expect more frequently in the future. Climate change could lead to more extreme weather conditions, increases in pest problems, and severe water shortages. On the other hand, a warmer climate and longer growing season could benefit many aspects of Canadian agriculture. In general, experts agree that future climate changes of the magnitude projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change would result in both advantages and disadvantages for the agricultural sector in Canada, and that the impacts would vary on a regional basis.
A key factor in determining the magnitude of climate change impacts on agriculture is adaptation. Appropriate adaptations would allow agriculture to minimize losses by reducing negative impacts, and maximize profits through capitalizing on the benefits. There are many different adaptation options available to the agricultural sector, which vary greatly in their application and approach. Selecting and implementing adaptation strategies will require consideration of the physical, socioeconomic and political influences on agriculture, as well as the contributing roles of producers, industry and government. It is also necessary to recognize that climate change is just one of many challenges facing the agricultural sector, and that it may not be considered a short-term priority in decision making.
TABLE 1: Distribution of farms across Canada
TABLE 2: Impacts of the 2001 drought on agriculture
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