In Canada, growing farm foods is highly determined by weather and climate, as climate change has meant increased temperatures and the likelihood of extreme events such as wildfires, flooding, hail storms, and tornadoes. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada report with earlier snow melts and shifting precipitation patterns; drought is becoming more common in the prairies and interior B.C., along with other regions not traditionally needing irrigation, thus increasing reliance on irrigation and water-resource management. Longer growing seasons in B.C. and southern Ontario historically meant good yields, but climate impacts are not uniform across Canada or seasons. Milder winters bring water stress (flooding or drought), which may result in loss or relocation of livestock and damage to crops, heat stress, wind damage, increased pest and disease pressures, and storms causing power outages. Across Canada, wetter springs may delay seeding, and hotter and drier summers impact livestock production and pollinator preferences, with early frosts challenging orchard harvesting. These impacts on soil health include farm productivity, profitability and competitiveness.
Quebec farmers dealt with cold, drought and heavy rains this summer alone — all within one season. Storms, floods, colds and wildfires have hit eastern Canada over the last year, destroying crops, harming animals and perplexing farmers about what else can happen.
Statistics Canada’s last census (2021) shows 189,874 farms, of which 5,658 grow organic products). This represents 1.6% of Canada’s total population or 590,710 people, a reduction of 62.2% from 1961’s census when there were 480,000 farms. Along with extreme weather events, COVID-19 brought labour shortages, supply chain disruptions, and rising input prices. Over time, however, the sector is working to adapt and modernise with renewable energy (22,576 farms in 2021) and sustainable practices.
Many farms are consolidated as large, while smaller and mid-size farms are steeply declining. Examples of technologies more prominent from 2015 to 2020 to improve efficiencies included automated guidance steering systems and geographic information system mapping.
An Agri-Food Economic Systems policy paper (2021) notes the shrinking of middle-sized farms threatens the community constituted by agriculture and institutions to support them. As few large farms increase in both number and economic significance, remarkable technologies such as robotics, AI, advanced telecommunications, and emerging genetic research are emerging to improve their productivity. Large farms are growing at the expense of mid-size and small farmers who bring off-farm income to sustain themselves. The large farm has become the average farm in commercial-scale operations.
Considering provinces/territories’ regulations differ from federal ones, and that farms don’t sell to the same end-users, this adds to the difficulty of ascertaining what a typical farm is nowadays.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture states 319 acres of farmland are lost daily, the equivalent of nine family farms over a week, mainly to urban development.
On the positive, Farmers for Climate Solutions (FCS) is Canada’s first pan-Canadian coalition of over 20,000 farmers and ranchers dedicated to supporting the sector’s climate transition. Through FCS’s mentorship program (FaRM), many farmers are changing how they seed, control weeds, manage soil health, till and plough, and use on-farm energy and fuels. Others are changing how they raise and graze livestock using compost and other manure-handling techniques to increase nutrient availability. FCS education includes advanced nitrogen management, advanced grazing systems, cover cropping and the creation of shelterbelts or windbreaks. Low-input, low-emission practices can reduce costs, improve water quality and management, encourage better soil health, and preserve biodiversity, all vital to long-term healthy, sustainable crops.
In late 2021, FCS assembled a farmer-led expert task force to map scaled-up climate-friendly practices already available toward a federal Agricultural Policy Framework to reduce emissions by 14% (10 mil tonnes of C02) by 2028, increase carbon sequestration and strengthen farm resilience. Essential policy/program suggestions included nitrogen management, manure storage and handling, livestock, soil, wetland and tree management, traditional cost-share programs, reverse auctions, and collective bonus payments to incentivise and promote adopting Best Management Practices.
Over the past year, there have been multiple concurrent initiatives advanced by the federal government supporting Canada’s agriculture sector, including a path towards reducing fertilizer emissions, a National Adaptation Strategy, a new Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership, Canada’s contribution to the Global Methane Pledge, Canada’s new Water Agency, Canada’s 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan, National Biodiversity Strategy, and Climate Science Plan. A new Sustainable Agriculture Strategy being finalized will support improved public and private action coordination and address gaps by informing policy and programming that advance environmental and climate outcomes.
The federal government has committed millions in funding under the Agricultural Climate Solutions Living Labs and On-Farm Climate Action Fund (2021-2024) to assist farmers in adopting management practices to reduce emissions. Some provinces have their strategies; Quebec and British Columbia are two examples. Pam Alexis, B.C.’s Minister of Agriculture and Food, notes, “We are investing in programs which take a proactive approach so producers can prepare for future climate impacts and take actions to mitigate them.”
Canadian farmers are making Moderate Progress in Adapting to Climate Issues, but many see it more as addressing extreme weather events.
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Canada Country Manager Diane Stoller