Changing climates

Agriculture production is highly dependent on weather and climate and is affected by changing weather patterns and seasonal conditions. There is evidence that changes in long-term rainfall and temperature trends have occurred in Alberta.

The Alberta Climate Information Service provides historical and near-real-time data that is quality assured and controlled. The data helps farmers and ranchers with long-term planning and decision-making.

This interactive tool provides:

  • weather forecasts
  • over 10,000 maps of Alberta weather and climate-related information
  • access to near real-time station data from over 350 meteorological stations operating in the province

Agricultural adaptations to climate change can differ within regions of the province due to individual farm management decisions, and influences of new technologies, policies and trade and market opportunities.

To look at an overview of past, present and possible future climate trends in Alberta, see Changing Climates in Alberta: Agricultural Overview.

Agricultural adaptation

The report, Agriculture Adaptation to Climate Change in Alberta: Focus Group Results, identifies risks and opportunities from changing climates and outlines climate smart strategies that farmers and ranchers can use to adapt.

Opportunities

Farmers and ranchers may consider these opportunities when adapting and increasing their resiliency to changing climates:

  • longer growing season due to higher average temperatures (more frost-free days, more growing degree days)
  • opportunity for growing longer-season, diversified crops (for example, cover crops, winter wheat, corn, switch grass)
  • more diversity in crop rotations, which provides more options for disease, insect and weed controls
  • shorter and milder winters (may lower heating requirements, reduce winter feeding, make winter grazing easier, reduce winter kill and risk to crops)
  • Arctic shipping routes may have an extended season and new additional routes may become available to transport agricultural products
  • opportunities for new industries (bioproducts like hemp fibre and the bioeconomy)
  • opportunities for the production of biofuels and bioenergy (both for the business and the commodities that produce it)

Risks

Farmers and ranchers may need to consider the following risks when adapting and increasing their resiliency to changing climates:

  • increased occurrences of extreme weather (such as drought, flooding, heat waves)
  • decreased soil moisture (longer and warmer summers)
  • water shortage and availability (shrinking glaciers, less snow pack, lower summer water flow and more rain)
  • water may become more valuable; pressures to price water at its market value may increase
  • new management challenges to overcome (rangeland stocking rates may need to be adjusted)
  • changed land use that results in carbon loss (cultivated land or perennials to annual crops)
  • accelerated wet and dry summer cycles from more extreme weather events
  • input costs may increase (higher fuel, fertilizer and chemical prices resulting from increased energy costs and carbon taxes)
  • extreme weather events may increase the risk of soil erosion and crop damage (impact crop insurance)
  • increased occurrence of forest fire and possibly grass fires
  • increased pest infestations due to milder winters and longer growing seasons (which may increase the need for pesticides)
  • decreased biodiversity and extinction of some species

Adaptation strategies

A number of management strategies can be used to adapt and increase resiliency to changing climates:

  • adopt conservation cropping practices such as reduced tillage and continuous cropping, to lower fuel use while improving water infiltration and nutrient cycling
  • diversify crops and rotations to include perennial forage, to disrupt disease and pest cycles, make effective use of deep soil nutrients, and provide protective cover from erosion that can trap snow
  • develop a long-term water management plan
  • restore and preserve wetlands to improve water infiltration, groundwater recharge, wildlife habitat and soil carbon sequestration
  • improve efficiencies across all aspects of farm management
  • monitor weather conditions, crop diseases and pests so early action can be taken when threats are more manageable
  • develop a nutrient management plan
  • review risk management strategies and develop a business plan; consider the wide range of insurance products available

For more information on possible funding programs go to the Canadian Agricultural Partnership - Alberta.

Resources

Alberta’s Agriculture Drought and Excess Moisture: Risk Management Plan

Canada's Changing Climate Report (PDF, 34 MB)

Prairie Provinces: Regional Perspectives Report (PDF, 4.7 MB)

Climate Change Adaptation Framework Manual

South Saskatchewan River Basin Adaptation to Climate Variability Project

Contact

Connect with the Ag-Info Centre:

Hours: 8 am to 5 pm (open Monday to Friday, closed statutory holidays)
Toll free: 310-FARM (3276)
Phone: 403-742-7901 (outside Alberta)
Email: [email protected]