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Unpredictable Weather Puts Food Supply at Risk

Rising temperatures aren’t the only factor to effect food production as climate change progresses.  Unusually high or low temperatures, excessive rain, drought, and extreme storms all have the potential to devastate food production.  The long drought experienced by much of Canada and the US this summer is just one of the ways in which climate change will stunt crop yields in future years.

While the prairies experienced sever drought that withered corn throughout the region, British Columbia experienced more rain during the Spring that damaged berry crops.  The weather turned warm and dry eventually, giving fruit growers a respite, but the rain stayed away too long , once again putting crops at risk.  Drastic changes in precipitation are becoming the “new normal”, according to a recent article in the Globe and Mail.  Such rapid changes in our climate will have a significant effect on annual crop yields.

There was initial enthusiasm for a long growing season when spring arrived early.  Farmer’s planted their crops earlier than normal, but a lack of rain damaged corn crops and a sudden cold snap cut fruit crops in Ontario by over 50%.

The damage from this unpredictable weather has been mitigated to some degree by modern farming technology.  Despite these advances, a Stanford University study found that “maize production would be 6% higher and wheat production 4% higher had agriculture not been exposed to climate trends since 1980.”

Technology, however, will not be able to mitigate the effect that a warming planet will have on the size of fish.  As temperatures rises, so too will the temperature in the ocean, resulting in lower oxygen levels in the water.  Without sufficient oxygen, fish will be unable to grow to their normal size.  By 2050, the average weight for most types of marine fish will fall by 14-24 percent.  In addition, fish stocks will move from warmer seas to the north and south in search of cooler temperatures.

ACT’s upcoming report on Crops & Food Supply , by Erik Karlsen, will map out key climate change issues for agriculture in Canada, as well as identify opportunities for government responses that might support improved resilience.

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