Sun, Oct 01, 2017 - Page 15 News List

Climate change could help Canada expand farmland

By Chris Arsenault  /  Thomson Reuters Foundation, TORONTO

As global warming intensifies droughts and floods, causing crop failures in many parts of the world, Canada might see something different: a farming expansion.

Rising temperatures could open millions of once frigid acres to the plow, officials, farmers and scientists have predicted.

“Canada is one of the few countries where climate change may create some opportunities for growing crops in northern latitudes,” said Rod Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, a lobby group representing 200,000 farmers.

However, determining just how much land in the world’s second-largest country could become suitable for farming as a result of climate change is not easy, Canadian Department of Agriculture and Agri-food senior official Ian Jarvis said.

In the country’s three prairie provinces alone — vast swaths of flat land in central Canada covering an area more than twice the size of France — the amount of arable land could rise between 26 and 40 percent by 2040, Jarvis said.

“Most of the improvements are happening in fringe areas of agricultural regions,” he said. “Canada is in a better situation than much of the rest of the world.”

Canada is the world’s largest exporter of canola, flaxseed and pulses, government figures showed, and is one of the top wheat producers.

Farmers hope the country of 35 million will be able to capitalize on the opportunities presented by warmer conditions — including by exporting more food to other regions hard-hit by increasing heat and crop failure.

World agricultural production will need to rise about 50 percent by 2050 to keep pace with population growth, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

As rising heat and more extreme weather cut harvests in some southern regions, hungry mouths across the developing world might turn to northern nations such as Canada for help, experts have predicted.

“We are seen as one of the few countries that can provide food for a growing global population,” Bonnett said.

Warming is expected to open new land to farming in Canada’s northern prairies; parts of the Yukon Territory near the Arctic; the Peace River region that straddles northern British Columbia and Alberta; and parts of northern Ontario, Bonnett said.

“There is a lot more interest in taking a look at underdeveloped land in northern Ontario and Quebec because of changes in climate,” Bonnett said at his farm in northern Ontario, where he grows hay and raises cattle.

In one zone of clay soil stretching from Cochrane, Ontario, to Abitibi County in neighboring Quebec, climate change could bring about 4.1 million hectares of new farmland — an area larger than Belgium — into production, Bonnet said.

However, climate change alone will not make the land economically viable for agriculture, he said, adding that remote areas will need roads, irrigation systems and other infrastructure to become the next farming frontier.

Climate change and improvements in farming technology have happened so quickly that scientific models have not been able provide solid estimates on how much new food could be produced as temperatures rise, Jarvis said.

For instance, warming will also shift growing patterns in Canada’s existing agricultural regions, allowing some farmers to produce more lucrative crops such as corn and soybeans where they once grew barley or hay, scientists have said.

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