2B.5 From Drought to Deluge: How do we Cope with these Extremes?

Monday, 18 July 2011: 2:30 PM
Swannanoa (Asheville Renaissance)
Grace Koshida, Environment Canada, Toronto, ON, Canada; and E. Wheaton, V. Wittrock, E. Siemens, and D. Smeh

The agri-food sector is a major contributor to Canada's economy; representing about 8% of Canada's Gross Domestic product (GDP) and employing 1 in every 8 Canadians (CAPI, 2011). Canada's drought years of 2001 and 2002 caused devastating impacts. Agricultural production in Canada dropped an estimated $3.6 billion (CDN) and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell $5.8 billion (CDN) in 2001 and 2002 (Wheaton et al., 2005,, 2007, 2008). Major crop production losses affected a wide variety of crops across Canada, especially in 2001. Livestock production was especially impacted and herd reduction was widespread. Previously reliable water supplies were heavily stressed and some failed. Adaptations used to deal with the drought were costly and several were limited in their effectiveness.

Since the 2001-2002 Canada-wide drought, climate extremes seem to be occurring more frequently across the country's main agricultural regions (i.e., Prairie Provinces, Southern Ontario, Maritime Provinces), with major climate extremes occurring from year to year, and even within the same year. For example, a severe drought occurred in the Prairie Provinces from 2008-to March 2010. But then the Prairies experienced record wet conditions from May 2010 that caused an estimated $1.5 billion (CDN) in economic losses and grain production yields that were 36% below 2009 harvest levels (BMO, 2010). These wild climate swings are affecting everyone and robust adaptation strategies are needed to cope with the changing climate conditions.

The climate change adaptation literature often assumes perfect adaptation will occur, with farmers and water resource managers knowing exactly how to take advantage of information. In reality, many adaptation measures are recommended, but implementation of these measures are constrained by factors such as finances, knowledge, technology, and personal preferences.

Changes in the adaptive capacities of the Canadian agricultural industry and rural communities since 2001-2002 to deal with climate extremes, such as severe drought and excessive moisture are assessed. This assessment focuses on evaluating changes in institutional adaptive capacity and farm level adaptations in the Prairie Provinces and Southern Ontario. Institutional adaptation includes past and current legislations, policies and programs implemented by provincial and federal government agencies, and the existence and involvement of provincial crop and livestock associations, local governments and .communities. Farm level adaptations also include the existence and involvement of provincial crop and livestock association, as well as local government and community involvement. It also includes how the farm community has changed the way they frame and identify risk and how and why over time adaptation options are perceived as opportunities to achieve or complement their goals to reduce risk. Methods used in the assessment include a print media survey, which documents impacts and adaptations to recent climate extremes, as well as the results of interviews and consultations with local, provincial and federal government staff and agricultural associations.

Climate change is expected to cause more incidences of extreme weather (droughts, floods, frost, hail, heat, cold) and water shortages that increasingly put farm incomes and the Canadian agri-economy at risk. However climate change may also provide opportunities in the agricultural industry such as longer growing seasons, increased crop yields for some crops, and potential decreased risks for new crops and varieties. Even greater benefits may occur with improved adaptation planning, implementation and monitoring. Future vulnerability to climate extremes will be affected by the adaptive capacity of Canadian agricultural and water institutions, as well as the individual rural communities.

Alterations in the distribution, amount, timing and/or quality of water and increases in demand due in part to a changing climate are likely to make water and agricultural management more complex and challenging. Therefore, climate, hydrological and agricultural information from the past can no longer be the only guide to making decisions for future agricultural activities in Canada. The development of adaptation measures requires much improved climate, impacts and adaptation information on several temporal and spatial scales (daily and seasonal forecasts, longer term climate scenario projections and water availability forecasts).

References: BMO (Bank of Montreal), 2010. BMO Lowers Estimate of Summer Flood Damage Costs for Prairie Farmers to $1.5 Billion, December 1, 2010 on-line article, http://www.marketwire.com/mw/rel_ca_print.jsp?id=1361680

CAPI (Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute), 2011. Canada's Agri-Food Destination: A New Strategic Approach. Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute, Ottawa. 101 pp.

Wheaton, E., V. Wittrock, S. Kulshreshtha , G. Koshida, C. Grant, A. Chipanshi and B. R., Bonsal, 2005: Lessons Learned from the Canadian Drought Years of 2001 and 2002: Synthesis Report, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC), Saskatoon, SK SRC Publication No. 11602 46E03, Saskatoon, SK. 30 pp.

Wheaton, E., G. Koshida, B. Bonsal, T. Johnston, W. Richards, V. Wittrock, 2007. Agricultural Adaptation to Drought (ADA) in Canada: The Case of 2001 to 2002. Prepared for Government of Canada's Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Program. Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC), Saskatoon, SK. SRC Publication No. 11927-1E07. 25 pp. Wheaton, E., S. Kulshreshtha, V. Wittrock and G. Koshida, 2008 Dry times: hard lessons from the Canadian drought of 2001 and 2002. Canadian Geographer, 52(2):241-262.

- Indicates paper has been withdrawn from meeting
- Indicates an Award Winner