It seems everybody is talking about climate change.
There’s still plenty of high profile politicians and scientists who deny the weather on Planet Earth is becoming more extreme, with U.S. President Donald Trump seemingly leading the charge. However, there are few skeptics within the farming community as the impacts are poised to exact a high price for both farmers and consumers.
Climate change is no longer something future generations will be forced to confront. Potato growers across the country have already seen its effects during the 2018 growing season. Torrential rains, prolonged periods of drought, a severe frost in June, and even snow – it all happened during the May-to-November period, and always at the wrong time of the growing cycle. The picture appeared remarkably similar right across the country. Far from being a "once in a lifetime" event, this could well be a sign of things to come.
"There is a huge shift in the global climate, and these changes will have a huge impact on agriculture," says Dr. Adam Fenech, director of the Climate Lab at the University of Prince Edward Island. "The temperature has been increasing across Canada, resulting in everything from melting of the permafrost in the north to increase drain in coastal areas to drier conditions on the Prairies."
Dr. Fenech predicts that, by 2050, the average temperature will have increased in the Atlantic region by 2-2.5 degrees. While that may not sound like much, he warns it will have a significant impact. While there will be more drier days, especially during the summer months, there will also be more moisture in the air. That means rainfalls will tend to be more extreme when they happen, much like they were this past autumn.
Dr. Fenech says winters will tend not to be as cold, meaning more agricultural pests will have a greater chance of survival."On average it is getting both warmer and drier but that is not going to happen every year," he says. He adds that this represents a long-term trend with variations from year to year. By his estimation, a growing season with closer-to-historic norms of rainfall or sunshine doesn't mean that the threat of climate change has disappeared.
"There are both positive and negative impacts for agriculture," Dr.Fenech says. Many growers may well need to change their line-up of crops. Some fruits and vegetables that may not have grown in a cold weather climate could suddenly become viable.
For consumers, climate change will almost certainly translate into higher prices. Already, the price of potatoes is on the rise as smaller harvests affect the marketplace. Higher prices also mean that those on low, or fixed, incomes will find it harder to put nutritious food on the table.
It’s not a pretty picture; in fact, it’s frightening. Yet we must accept that climate change is now here to stay. As individuals and members of society, we can no longer afford to ignore the irrefutable reality now staring us back in the face.