Farmers preparing for warmer, drier summers

Emily MacNair to speak about efforts to adapt agricultural practices to a changing climate at Pacific Agriculture Show

Farmers are preparing for more hot

Farmers are preparing for more hot

As much of society takes a wait-and-react approach to climate change, farmers are increasingly searching for ways to deal with warmer temperatures and altered precipitation patterns.

Pests, increased flooding risks, more extreme weather and drainage issues all pose challenges to Fraser Valley growers, according to Emily MacNair of the BC Agriculture Council’s Climate Action Initiative.

But work is well underway to get ahead of the changes. MacNair, who will speak Saturday at the Pacific Agriculture Show at Tradex, said farmers’ groups, universities, and governments across the region are already exploring ways to get ahead of the shifting skies.

By 2050, the number of particularly warm summer days is expected to more than double, as will the number of extremely wet days. Summers are predicted to be 12 per cent drier, while winters will be wetter, albeit with more rain and much less snow. Average temperatures are also expected to increase, bringing with them more frost-free days and days suitable for growing.

Taken as a whole, the changing climate requires adaptation by farmers, MacNair says, especially in preparation for abnormal weather becoming much more common.

“That average temperature isn’t so much the big issue for farming; it’s the variability-in-extremes side of climate change that is the big issue,” MacNair said, adding the climate’s wide-ranging impact on the supply of water is important.

In recent years, local berry growers have seen long droughts cause logistical problems by speeding up the growing season and causing crops that would normally be harvested at staggered intervals to ripen around the same time.

A range of projects are now underway to both study the effects of climate change, and to test new ways to react to more water, warmer temperatures and different pests. In the Fraser Valley, scientists and growers are testing new drainage methods, trying out new ways to grow forage, and examining the impacts of a pest that targets potato crops. The Climate Action Initiative also expects to release a comprehensive study next month on the potential outcomes of a major Fraser Valley flood, the likelihood of which is increasing as the climate changes.

“I think all of society will be thinking more of these issues looking forward. I hope with agriculture in British Columbia, by doing what we’re doing now, that we’re helping producers to be better prepared for that future before it arrives.

“That’s the goal for adaptation: to be in a situation where you don’t end up with real hardship because people aren’t prepared for those changes.”

MacNair speaks at 9 a.m. Saturday.