About agricultureandclimatechange

I am a graduate Environmental Sciences student from Lebanon. I am doing my masters at the Université de Montreal (UdeM), Montreal, Canada. I am working with a team of scientists. My supervisor is prof. Christopher Bryant, and he can be reached at the following address: http://www.geog.umontreal.ca/personnel/professeurs/bryantc/index.html. Also, you can contact my codirector which can be reached at the following address: http://www.geog.umontreal.ca/personnel/professeurs/maroisc/index.html

Corn Hybrid Selection and Climatic Variability: Gambling with Nature?

Despite the predictions of the modeling approaches described in the recent reports of IPCC ((crop simulation models, agro-ecological zone (AEZ) and the model of the Ricardian approach)), which say that Canada, a temperate region, will probably play a more important role in feeding the world if the A2 scenario of the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) comes to be true (Cline, 2007; IPCC, 2007), Canadian agriculture is facing many problems recently arising from climate change and variability. Hence, to cope with climate change and variability, it is not only mitigation that is important but also adaptation. And when it comes to adaptation, it is the climate variability that interests us rather than the increase in global average temperatures. The main characteristics of the vulnerability and adaptation to climate change are those related to climate variability and extremes, and not just change in average conditions (Chiotti et Johnston 1995; Means et al., 1997; Smit et al., 1997; Smithers et Smit, 1997; Karl et Knight, 1998; Berz, 1999; Hulme et al., 1999; Mendelsohn et al., 1999; Wandel et Smit, 2000; IPCC, 2001; Smit et Pilifosova, 2007). Research during the 1990s has emphasized the need to recognize the variability (or heterogeneity) of inherent spatial conditions (agro-climatic, soil resources, cultural values, …) in which agriculture developed, and therefore the importance of validating the indicators of adaptation and analyzing them in more detail to take into account the regional differentiation of agro-climatic conditions in relation to vulnerability and adaptive capacity (Bryant et al., 2007). For example, drought and excess rainfall were the most common impacts of climatic conditions identified by a sample of farmers in southern Ontario, representing 80% of responses (Smit et al., 1996). In addition, still talking about Canada, it is generally recognized that climate change has the potential to have the greatest impact on the Prairies and in central British Columbia, which is reflected in the hydrographs of streams in snowmelt in response to recent climate variability, and which may affect the timing of water availability (Leith and Whitfield, 1998; Whitfield, 2001). In addition, adaptation studies go beyond crop yields modeling to integrate adaptation which implies in particular that farmers can use some adaptation practices best suited to different climate scenarios (Bryant et al., 2000).

Adaptation refers to the responses of individuals, groups and governments to climatic stimuli or the effect of reducing vulnerability or susceptibility to negative impacts or potential damage associated with climate change (Carter et al., 1994; Watson et al., 1996; Pielke, 1998; Tol et al., 1998; UNEP, 1998; Wheaton and MacIver, 1999; Smit et al., 2000; UKCIP, 2003; Pilifosova and Smit, 2007). In addition, it is oriented to take advantage of opportunities associated with climate change (at least in some regions) (Carter et al., 1994, Watson et al., 1996; Pielke, 1998; Tol et al., 1998, UNEP, 1998 , Wheaton and MacIver, 1999; Smit et al., 2000; Pilifosova and Smit, 2007). For example, in Canada, most adaptation options are changes in agricultural practices and current public policy decision-making processes concerning a series of changing climatic conditions (including climate variability and extremes) and non-climate conditions (political, economic and social) (Smit and Skinner, 2002). Regarding climate change, adaptation is important from two perspectives – one is related to the assessment of impacts and vulnerabilities, the other is concerned with the development and evaluation of response options (Frankhausser 1996; Yohe et al., 1996; Tol et al., 1998; UNEP, 1998; Smit et al., 1999; Pittock and Jones, 2000; Pilifosova and Smit, 2007).

An article written by Barry Smit, Robert Blain and Philip Keddie in 1997 represents an example of farmers’ adaptation to climatic variability through the use of corn hybrid selection in Southern Ontario. This example of adaptation, crop development, comes under the different types of technological developments (Smit and Skinner, 2002). Crop development means the development of new crop varieties, including hybrids, to increase the tolerance and suitability of plants to temperature, moisture and other relevant climatic conditions (Smit and Skinner, 2002). In fact, hybrid varieties are developed by combining genetically different parents in order to enhance such attributes of disease and mould resistance, stalk strength, maturity time, and yield (Aldrich et al., 1975; Tollenaar et al., 1994). Corn hybrid varieties are available for a wide range of climatic conditions, including accumulated, measured as Corn Heat Units (CHU) (Smit et al., 1997).

The article of Smit el al. (1997) takes two sample counties in Southern Ontario, Lambton County and Wellington County, to allow a comparison of responses to climatic variability between farmers from different agricultural systems, specifically to show on what basis farmers choose the hybrid varieties. To do so, climate data were obtained for three weather stations in each of the two study counties to map the variations in CHUS for the different regions of Ontario for the period 1973-1993. The CHU map indicates the heat, relative to corn development needs, accumulated at a given location in an average year. As a result, farmers are advised to plant hybrid varieties that match the average CHUS at their location. It is important to note here that yield and maturity are very important in corn production because of the spatial variations in growing season length, and considerable resources have been devoted to hybrid development of these traits (Joseph and Keddie, 1985); hence, the importance of labeling and classifying corn hybrids according to their CHU designation (Brown and Bootsma, 1994). For each location, hybrids were classified into one of five categories according to their CHU rating relative to the recommended (i.e., average) CHU at that location. While input requirements do not vary significantly among corn hybrids, there is a correspondence between maturity length (heat requirements) and yield (Daynard 1994). Hybrids with lower heat requirements (earlier maturing or shorter-season varieties) generally have lower yields. Hybrids developed for higher levels of accumulated heat (later-maturing or longer-season varieties) invariably have higher yields, so long as they reach maturity.

Farmers choose their hybrid varieties prior to the growing season, presumably knowing the average heat at their location, but faced with the uncertainty inherent in year to-year variations or in growing-season conditions. Farmers in Wellington generally chose lower- CHU-rated varieties than did their counterparts in Lambton, reflecting the shorter average growing season in Wellington. Each year, and given the experience of previous years, farmers have to choose hybrid varieties to plant, not knowing whether the growing season will be long (warm), short (cool), or about average. For example, after the high CHU year of 1991, farmers chose significantly more longer-maturing and potentially higher-yielding, but riskier varieties. On the other hand, after the lower CHU years of 1992 and 1993, farmers’ hybrid selections became markedly more conservative. This tendency for more conservative hybrid choice following the lower CHU years is consistent across locations. Farmers in Wellington County generally chose more risky hybrids, and perhaps for this reason did not become even more risky in their choice up to 1992 to the degree apparent in Lambton. Nonetheless, in both counties, farmers chose shorter season (lower CHU) hybrids after 1992. Furthermore, this trend is apparent regardless of the size of farm or the area farmers planted in corn, and independent of enterprise orientation (Blain et al., 1995).

To conclude, selection of corn hybrid varieties (according to their maturity length or heat requirements) represents a means of coping with, or purposefully adapting to, a variable climate regime. And hybrids mean that they are not necessarily genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In addition, the key climatic condition for corn growth and maturity is the accumulated growing season heat, measured as Corn Heat Units (CHUS). So important is this attribute that hybrids are classified and labeled according to their CHU designation (Brown and Bootsma, 1994). However, mapping CHU variations is not sufficient because it does not provide insights into the relative risk positions of individuals. It does not allow determination of whether the trends reflect large changes in hybrid selection by a few producers or widespread changes among most farmers (Smit et al., 1997). As a result, a relative risk index is needed for each respondent at each year.  And to assure the results of the average risk index, open-ended questions are needed. It is worth noting here that a conservative farmer may choose a short-season hybrid that has a greater probability of maturing but has lower yields; another farmer may choose a later-maturing hybrid that has a higher expected yield, but is more risky because it requires a higher level of accumulated heat to reach maturity. Also, it is true that farmers are advised to plant hybrid varieties that match the average CHUS at their location. However, farmers frequently select hybrids above or below the recommended CHU range. We should remember here that decisions in agriculture are influenced by a complex mix of economic, cultural, political, and environmental factors, most of which are variable and beyond the control of individual farmers (Ilbery, 1985; Smit et al., 1996). A farmer’s selection of corn hybrids involves consideration of many of these factors. Moreover, risk management is rarely limited to one action (in this case, choosing a hybrid mix). Other strategies to deal with climate-related risks, such as crop diversification or crop insurance, may help explain some of the apparently risky corn hybrid choices (Smithers and Smit, 1996). Any reduction (or removal) of crop insurance subsidies would mean that risks would be more fully borne by farmers, in which case a more careful consideration by farmers of the likelihood of certain CHU accumulations might be warranted – rather than weighting expectations heavily on the conditions of the previous year. For example, there is a broad adjustment to the prevailing climatic regime, as evidenced by the farmers in Wellington County choosing shorter-season varieties than farmers in Lambton. In addition, the study shows that technological developments are not the panacea for agriculture under climatic variability and change, even in technologically advanced commercial farming systems. Here, one should keep in mind that the excess of technical services, especially the physical capital, can cause damage to agriculture and the physical atmosphere, emitting more greenhouse gases. The second law of thermodynamics states that “all physical processes, natural and technological, proceed in such a way that the availability of the energy involved decreases” (Daly and Townsend, 1992). So, 100% efficiency does not exist. The first and the second laws of thermodynamics make it clear that all the energy used on the face of the Earth, renewable and non-renewable forms of energy, will ultimately be degraded to heat (Daly and Townsend, 1992). There would seem to be opportunities to reduce vulnerabilities to climatic variation not by developing new hybrids for this purpose, but by clarifying the nature of (and probabilities associated with) climatic variability, so that individuals can select hybrid mix strategies consistent with their risk preferences, rather than this seemingly reckless gambling with nature. Given the unpredictability of specific growing season conditions, farmers have little choice but to gamble, yet weighting choices so much on the last throw of the dice seems to be a poorly informed basis for decisions when the probabilities associated with climatic variability are well known.

Furthermore, the study of Smit et al. (1997) is broadly consistent with those from much of the work on human responses to environmental hazards (Kunreuther and Slovic, 1986; Burton et al., 1993; Palm, 1995), which has shown that adaptations are most powerfully influenced by most recent experiences, and that recognition of earlier experiences declines rather quickly with time.

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Adaptation of Agriculture to Climate Change and Variability in Quebec (a power point presentation in French)

Here is the power point presentation in French (Séminaire Œuvre Durable)

DD & Environnement- CB CA OD

Adaptation of Agriculture to Climatic Variability and Change: A Process of Social Networks and Diffusion of Innovations

PhD Thesis Defense by Oumarou Daouda

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Note: The video was taken by Cherine Akkari, and the photo by Nathalie Deslitets

Michigan Loses ‘Right To Farm’ This Week: A Farewell To Backyard Chickens and Beekeepers

Michigan backyard chicken farmers lost their Right To Farm protection under the new GAAMP changes.

Michigan residents lost their “right to farm” this week thanks to a new ruling by the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development. Gail Philburn of the Michigan Sierra Club told Michigan Live, the new changes “effectively remove Right to Farm Act protection for many urban and suburban backyard farmers raising small numbers of animals.” Backyard and urban farming were previously protected by Michigan’s Right to Farm Act. The Commission ruled that the Right to Farm Act protections no longer apply to many homeowners who keep small numbers of livestock.

Kim White, who raises chickens and rabbits, said, “They don’t want us little guys feeding ourselves. They want us to go all to the big farms. They want to do away with small farms and I believe that is what’s motivating it.” The ruling will allow local governments to arbitrarily ban goats, chickens and beehives on any property where there are 13 homes within one eighth mile or a residence within 250 feet of the property, according to Michigan Public Radio. The Right to Farm Act was created in 1981 to protect farmers from the complaints of people from the city who moved to the country and then attempted to make it more urban with anti-farming ordinances. The new changes affect residents of rural Michigan too. It is not simply an urban or suburban concern.

Shady Grove Farm in Gwinn, Michigan is the six and a half acre home to 150 egg-laying hens that provide eggs to a local co-op and a local restaurant. The small Michigan farm also homes sheep for wool and a few turkeys and meat chickens to provide fresh healthy, local poultry. “We produce food with integrity,” Randy Buchler told The Blaze about Shady Grove Farm. “Everything we do here is 100 percent natural — we like to say it’s beyond organic. We take a lot of pride and care in what we’re doing here.” Shady Grove Farm was doing its part to bring healthy, local, organic food to the tables of Gwinn residents, and it mirrors the attitudes of hundreds of other small farming operations in Michigan and thousands of others popping up around the nation. The ruling comes within days of a report by The World Health Organization that stated the world is currently in grave danger of entering a post-antibiotic era. The WHO’s director-general Dr. Margaret Chan argued that the antibiotic use in our industrialized food supply is the worst offender adding to the global crisis. “The Michigan Agriculture Commission passed up an opportunity to support one of the hottest trends in food in Michigan – public demand for access to more local, healthy, sustainable food,” Gail Philbin told MLive.

Meanwhile, neighboring Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed Senate Bill 179 a few weeks before which freed up poultry and egg sales from local and state regulation. Yesterday, the USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced massive funding to support research about small and medium-sized family farms, such as small farms ability to build-up local and regional economic systems. “There’s a lot of unnecessary legal action being taken against small farms who are doing good things in their communities,” said Randy Buchler, who is also on the board of directors for the Michigan Small Farm Council. The Michigan Small Farm Council actively fought to support Michigan farming freedom, but ultimately the Commission voted to approve the new restrictions.

“Farm Bureau has become another special interest beholden to big business and out of touch with small farmers, and constitutional and property rights of the little guy,” Pine Hallow Farms wrote to the Michigan Small Farm Council. The Michigan Farm Bureau endorsed the new regulatory changes. Matthew Kapp, government relations specialist with Michigan Farm Bureau, told MLive that the members weighed in and felt that people raising livestock need to conform to local zoning ordinances. The Farm Bureau did not feel Michigan’s Right To Farm Act was meant to protect the smaller farms, and ultimately the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development agreed.

[Photo courtesy of City Chickens Gone Country]

Via http://www.inquisitr.com/1235774/michigan-loses-right-to-farm-this-week-a-farewell-to-backyard-chickens-and-beekeepers/

Corn Yields Are Growing More Sensitive To Heat And Drought

According to Stanford research U.S. corn yields are growing more sensitive to heat and drought. Farmers are faced with difficult tradeoffs in adapting to a changing climate in which unfavorable weather will become more common.Corn Yields Are Growing More Sensitive To Heat And Drought

The study, which appears in the journal Science, was led by Stanford’s David Lobell, associate professor of environmental Earth system science and associate director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment. “The Corn Belt is phenomenally productive,” Lobell said, referring to the region of Midwestern states where much of the country’s corn is grown. “But in the past two decades we saw very small yield gains in non-irrigated corn under the hottest conditions. This suggests farmers may be pushing the limits of what’s possible under these conditions.”

He predicted that at current levels of temperature sensitivity, crops could lose 15 percent of their yield within 50 years, or as much as 30 percent if crops continue the trend of becoming more sensitive over time.

As Lobell explained, the quest to maximize crop yields has been a driving force behind agricultural research as the world’s population grows and climate change puts pressure on global food production. One big challenge for climate science is whether crops can adapt to climate change by becoming less sensitive to hotter and drier weather.

“The data clearly indicate that drought stress for corn and soy comes partly from low rain, but even more so from hot and dry air. Plants have to trade water to get carbon from the air to grow, and the terms of that trade become much less favorable when it’s hot,” said Lobell, also the lead author for a chapter in the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report, which details a consensus view on the current state and fate of the world’s climate.

Rain, temperature, humidity

The United States produces 40 percent of the world’s corn, mostly in Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana. As more than 80 percent of U.S. agricultural land relies on natural rainfall rather than irrigation, corn farmers in these regions depend on precipitation, air temperature and humidity for optimal plant growth.

According to the research, over the last few decades, corn in the United States has been modified with new traits, like more effective roots that better access water and built-in pest resistance to protect against soil insects. These traits allow farmers to plant seeds closer together in a field, and have helped farmers steadily raise yields in typical years.

But in drought conditions, densely planted corn can suffer higher stress and produce lower yields. In contrast, soybeans have not been planted more densely in recent decades and show no signs of increased sensitivity to drought, the report noted.

Drought conditions are expected to become even more challenging as temperatures continue to rise throughout the 21st century, the researchers said.

Lobell said, “Recent yield progress is overall a good news story. But because farm yields are improving fastest in favorable weather, the stakes for having such weather are rising. In other words, the negative impacts of hot and dry weather are rising at the same time that climate change is expected to bring more such weather.”

Lobell’s team examined an unprecedented amount of detailed field data from more than 1 million USDA crop insurance records between 1995 and 2012.

“The idea was pretty simple,” he said. “We determined which conditions really matter for corn and soy yields, and then tracked how farmers were doing at different levels of these conditions over time. But to do that well, you really need a lot of data, and this dataset was a beauty.”

Lobell said he hopes that the research can help inform researchers and policymakers so they can make better decisions.

“I think it’s exciting that data like this now exist to see what’s actually happening in fields. By taking advantage of this data, we can learn a lot fairly quickly,” he said. “Of course, our hope is to improve the situation. But these results challenge the idea that U.S. agriculture will just easily adapt to climate changes because we invest a lot and are really high-tech.”

Lobell and colleagues are also looking at ways crops may perform better under increasingly hot conditions. “But I wouldn’t expect any miracles,” he said. “It will take targeted efforts, and even then gains could be modest. There’s only so much a plant can do when it is hot and dry.”

Laura Seaman is the communications and external relations manager for Stanford’s Center on Food Security and the Environment, a joint program of Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

From: http://www.haccpeuropa.com/2014/05/02/corn-yields-growing-sensitive-heat-drought/

New agriculture minister acknowledges lack of consultation on ALR changes, BC, Canada

Published on April 17, 2004 on http://www.bcndp.ca/newsroom/new-agriculture-minister-acknowledges-lack-consultation-alr-changes

KAMLOOPS – Norm Letnick, Christy Clark’s latest agriculture minister, is acknowledging that there has not been real consultation to allow for the Liberals’ Bill 24 to move forward, say the New Democrats.

“Mr. Letnick latest public comments reflect that the Liberals never received any mandate from farmers and British Columbians across this province to make such sweeping changes to B.C.’s revered Agricultural Land Reserve that undermine our food security and farming sector,” said New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix. “Not only did the Liberals not campaign on changing the ALR, after entering office they never once consulted on this legislation.”

Letnick acknowledged Wednesday that the opposition to the legislation from within the agriculture sector is causing him to revisit the government’s lack of consultation on the legislation.

“One of the Liberals’ primary premises for Bill 24 – that a majority of farmland in the ALR outside of Vancouver Island, the Fraser Valley and Okanagan, is not productive farmland – has been thoroughly discredited by experts, who have informed the premier that the opposite is true,” said New Democrat small business critic Lana Popham.

“This not only reveals the Liberals’ lack of knowledge on the true overall value of the ALR, it reinforces that they never held any informed consultation on the ALR as part of the Core Review process that led this legislation. Real consultation would have resulted in better public policy that truly supports farmers, farming and our food security. Until such consultation takes place, Bill 24 needs to be shelved.”

A letter soil experts sent to the premier last week unequivocally stated that Bill 24 was putting at risk millions of hectares of high-class agriculture land located in the Interior, the Kootenays, and the north.

“These experts make clear that the government’s attempt to divide ALR into two zones – reserving Zone 1 for agriculture but not Zone 2 – is flawed, and based on erroneous assumptions. The truth is that the majority of B.C.’s best farmland is in Zone 2: 2 million hectares compared to 350,000 hectares. And in a province where only five per cent of the land base is suitable for agriculture, all these hectares need to be preserved and protected,” said Popham, who is also MLA for Saanich South and a former farmer.

Dix and Popham were in Kamloops Thursday meeting with agriculture groups as part of the Official Opposition’s ongoing effort to pressure the Liberals to shelve Bill 24, and to adopt legislative measures that actually promote farming, productivity in the ALR and B.C.’s food security. To achieve these ends, Dix has tabled the BC Local Food Act, which is being endorsed by agriculture groups including B.C. Local Food Systems and Farm to Cafeteria Canada.

The main elements of the legislation include implementing a comprehensive strategy on government purchasing locally grown food; reintroducing the successful Buy BC program; mandating a legislative committee on food and agriculture to prepare, in consort with the agriculture minister, a plan to increase local food production, marketing, and processing. The plan would set targets and implement policies to meet those targets which would be reported on annually in the legislature.

“Contrary to the claims made by Bill Bennett – the minister in charge of Core Review – farmers and British Columbians across this province are making it very clear that this is not the agriculture legislation our province needs. The ALR is supported by more than 80 per cent of people in this province, who recognize that if it is dismantled, their food security and local economy will suffer,” said Popham.

And more recently, WATCH: B.C. Farmers hope opposition ‘ploughs down’ Bill 24