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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Caribbean Policymakers Get Climate Adaptation Tool

An adaptation plan to deal with the detrimental effects of climate change can be seen as a planning tool to be used to examine the issue of climate change in context and in all fields of activities of a municipal government, to identify and prioritize the key risks, and to adopt a vision as well as to provide steps for implementing short, medium and long-term adaptation measures to changing climatic conditions. 

A decision-support website has been launched to help policymakers in the Caribbean build resilience to the risks that climate change poses to activities such as tourism and agriculture.

The Caribbean Climate Online Risk and Adaptation TooL (CCORAL), unveiled last month (12 July) in Saint Lucía, allows users to identify whether their activity is likely to be influenced by climate change and how to deal with this.

It helps project managers to understand climate influence on decisions, and to choose and apply risk management processes.

“The site is not set up to tell a manager what decision they should make, but rather to help them understand the factors involved and to explore and weigh options.”

http://www.scidev.net/global/climate-change/news/caribbean-policymakers-get-climate-adaptation-tool.html

ReFARM Database

Overcoming the threats to agriculture and food security in a changing climate requires a strong scientific evidence base to both help smallholder farmers choose resilient strategies and to guide development policy and investments.

Building on a Bioversity and CCAFS systematic review of the role of diversification in agricultural systems, the Platform for Agrobiodiversity Research is now hosting the ReFARM (the Resilience Framework for Agriculture and Risk Management) Database, to feature hundreds of reviewed case studies on these issues.

Case studies can be quickly screened according to a range of categories including region, scale, climate risks, diversification type and other management categories, along with other features of agricultural systems. Practitioners who would like to contribute their own work are invited to submit a case directly through the site.

So far the database has 37 case studies on diversification and livestock …

Follow the link to the web site ReFARM

Wild Foods in the Urban Economy

Calgary groups raise awareness of urban wild foods

by Matt Hanson

Local projects are redefining the food-scape in Calgary. Photo credit: Matt Hanson
Local projects are redefining the food-scape in Calgary. Photo credit: Matt Hanson

CALGARY—The landscape of food cultivation in Canada is changing. Economists predict an increase in food prices next year across Canada as the United States economy continues to decline. Wild foods harvesting is one of the many ways by which people across the country are confronting the current economic downturn and reclaiming their health sovereignty.

Despite Calgary Parks and Pathways Bylaw 20M2003, which prohibits wild foods harvesting by virtue of prohibiting any act to intentionally “damage, dig, cut, disturb or destroy any park vegetation, whether alive or dead,” there is a growing interest in wild foods harvesting.

Calgary Food Bank runs a wild game outreach program for schools. Piitoayis (Eagle Lodge) Family School located in southeast Calgary uses the program to educate K-6 students about Aboriginal traditions of wild game. “Calgary Food Bank received a number of inquiries from Aboriginal people requesting wild game meat with respect to their cultural traditions,” Calgary Food Bank Communications Coordinator Kathryn Sim told The Dominion regarding the initial interest to support a wild meat program. “We seek to provide a diversity of foods.”

There are numerous other projects in Calgary redefining the food-scape. Leaf Ninjas, a successful Small Plot Intensive (SPIN) urban farming initiative; and The Light Cellar, a raw superfoods specialty store, are engaging more youth in permaculture and wild foods harvesting is having a greater role in fostering local economic sustainability.

Daniel Vitalis, a leading health and personal development strategist, explains how wild foods are not limited to solid foods, but also include fresh spring water, air and sunlight. “It’s easy to think of the food we eat as nutrition. It’s a little bit more of a stretch for people to realize the water they drink is nutrition…now I want you to understand that your air is part of your nutrition,” said Vitalis. “We also need light to regulate a whole lot of our systems.”

“The economic system will decline on itself, so it is first necessary to live independently,” said Vitalis during his recent series of speaking engagements in Calgary. “We can develop food sovereignty by connecting with our local foodshed—food producers. This is about learning how to take care of your physical body in a new way.”

Urban farmer, gardener and Leaf Ninjas founder Luke Kimmel leads the initiative into its second year. Also at work on urban permaculture projects such as building shelter belts, Leaf Ninjas is active year–round, networking through community engagement events on their website. “Every time we pay for something, we give it value,” Kimmel told The Dominion. “Bringing wild foods into the urban economy is a way to give economic value to wild foods.”

Bylaw 20M2003 is “mutually disregarded by both wild food harvesters and local politicians,” says Kimmel. Employing the right to harvest local wild foods in Canadian cities is not futile. “Basically, that bylaw can be ignored,” says Kimmel. “People need to have access to their local food.”

Kimmel also shared with The Dominion many permaculture-savvy ways to engender wild nutrition activism in the city. “By using the seeds from plants that grow in the city as weeds, such as orach, I gather the seeds and plant them in my plots. Another way is by guerrilla gardening, where you can plant seed anywhere in any green space on public property,” says Kimmel.

In Canadian cities, young farmers are as rare as wild foods harvesters. “There are individuals who currently practice wild foods harvesting as their main or complementary economic activity. In Alberta, the chaga mushroom, which grows particularly in the boreal forests, has seen an upsurge in harvesting and trade,” says Kimmel.

“The city or municipality should have no say in what individuals harvest and trade,” says Vitalis. “The rule of law is not just the laws written down by legislatures—it’s the idea of a contract that exists between individuals.”

“People are disconnected from their food source,” Calgary local foods enthusiast Rogelio Lozano told The Dominion. The most recent survey conducted by Leger Marketing indicates that over 90 per cent of the Canadian population wants mandatory labeling of genetically modified (GM) food.

Calgary Harvest donates one third of fruit harvested from fruit trees on homeowner property to Calgary Food Bank. It is also accepting wild game donations starting this year. “Calgary Food Bank plans to issue notices to all hunters renewing and receiving licenses about donating wild game beginning in January 2013,” says Sim.

Vulnerability of Farms and Adaptation to Climate Change in Quebec: Risk Management and Adaptation to Climate Variability

During the course of their lifespan, humans were used to harvest what they cultivate by their own hands. However, this reality has changed with the development of technology especially with the beginning of the industrial revolution that began in the 18th century. The industrial revolution has encouraged the over-use of fossil fuels, which is a high-carbon economy, such as coal and natural gas. People began to dominate nature. They cut trees, they destroyed forests, and they overexploited almost any useful resource to an extent that their actions have exceeded the world’s carrying capacity. In 2007, the area that is available to produce renewable resources and absorb CO2, which is called “Footprint”, has exceeded the earth’s biocapacity by 50% (Alcamo et.al, 2010). This is true because the methods that people have adopted are unsustainable. In fact and according to the American Institute of Physics, it is predicted that by 2050, the demand of the world for energy will double due to population growth and to the industrialization of developing countries (Crabtree, 2004). During the 20th century, global temperatures rose by approximately 0.60 C and climate models estimate that this figure is set to rise to 20 C by 2100 (Houghton et al., 1996). According to a report published on 18 November by the World Bank, the average temperature of the planet may rise by 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century (Torre, 2012). This global warming has been attributed in part to human activity, and in particular to the burning of fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. CO2, methane (CH4), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), tropospheric (low-level) ozone (O3), and water vapour (H2O), are among the important gases that are able, in the atmosphere, to absorb heat radiated by the earth, whilst allowing the sun’s energy to pass through unobstructed (Haslett, 2008). As a result, the gases allow the atmosphere to act like a greenhouse, and are responsible for producing the earth’s average temperature of 150 C (Haslett, 2008). This has given rise to the phenomenon that is referred to as the Greenhouse Effect, and without this natural phenomenon, the earth’s average temperature would be in the region of -170 C (Haslett, 2008). Concern is focused on the increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere from human activity, which is causing an increase in the Greenhouse Effect, resulting in global warming. It must be noted that global warming may not be only due to anthropogenic effects and that natural phenomena may be contributing, such as variations in solar radiation output (Haslett, 2008).

There has now been well over a decade of research into the adaptation of human activities to climate change and variability in several countries, including Canada (e.g. Brklacich et al., 1997; Bryant et al., 1997; Bryant et al., 2000). In the early 1990s, apart from a certain level of skepticism, much of the work on the impacts of climate change on agriculture centred on climate change modelling. At that point in time – the early 1990s – farmers’ perceptions certainly revealed the potential of farmer adaptation to climate change and variability (Bryant et al., 2007; Bryant et al., 2005). Comparison of future yields under different climate scenarios with current yields was thus explored, giving ‘impacts’ in terms of changes in yields (Bryant et al., 2000). The yields for different crop types could then be compared and implications for agricultural land use change were derived directly from these model outputs, and this was undertaken in Quebec as elsewhere in North America (Singh and Stewart, 1991; Rosenberg et al., 1992; Mearns et al., 1992; Semenov et al., 1995). However, climate change and variability were certainly not a major preoccupation for farmers (Bryant et al., 2007; Bryant et al., 2005). At the same time, research during the 1990s stressed the need to recognize the inherent spatial variability of conditions under which agriculture has developed, and therefore to validate adaptation indicators more extensively and analyze regional differentiation of agro-climatic conditions in relation to vulnerability and adaptive capacity. In addition, the need to incorporate “the human factor” in climate change adaptation research resulted in a comparable change in orientation that included human agency with the biophysical impact-based approaches (Singh et al., 1996, 1998; André et al., 1996). From there, the issue of the adaptation of agriculture to climate change and variability (Bryant et al., 1997) was highlighted, followed by effort directed at understanding the capacity for adaptation of different farmers and farming systems (e.g. Bryant and André, 2003). As a result, questions have thus increasingly been posed concerning how human agency is or can adjust to these changing conditions. Research into the adaptation question for agricultural activities has been underway in Canada now by several small research teams for the last 16 years (Brklacich et al., 1997; Bryant et al., 2000).

The following paper will briefly discuss the research program dealing with adaptation of agriculture to climate change and variability at the universities of Montreal and McGill since the fall, 2004. The program is an extension of a longer research thrust into farm adaptation (and the adaptation of other human activities) that has been carried out at the Université de Montréal since the early 1990s. The partners of this particular research program are Ouranos, a climate change consortium in Montreal, the Agricultural Financing Agency for Quebec, the Ministry of Agriculture (Quebec), the Farmers Union of Quebec, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. The Ministry of Natural Resources Canada and Ouranos financed this program.

The project focuses on risk management strategies by Quebec farmers, combining historical analyses of significant climatic events, selected crop production enterprises and insurance claims (yield effects) with analyses of farm-level strategies in terms of farm productivity and profitability (e.g. crop combinations and diversification strategies, on-farm resources ((soils, water) management strategies, sales strategies)) following these events. Also, the project builds on the understanding from the past experiences of farmers in Quebec in adapting to and coping with extreme events of adapting versus not adapting to changing climatic conditions. The research focused on three agricultural regions in Quebec, Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean (SLSJ) region, Centre-du-Québec and the South-West Quebec (Montreal).                                                                                                             The methodology is mainly based on a general conceptual framework which takes into consideration the bio-physical environment (e.g. climate and soil conditions) and the adaptation to climate change and variability as part of farmers’ risk management strategies. One should note here that the farmers’ risk management strategies are made ‘in context’, for example, in the context of other actors’ decisions which modify farmers’ perceptions either by providing farmers with additional information (e.g. the ‘good practices’ guides of La Financière, information provided by the MAPAQ and the UPA) or which determine certain parameters in the farmers’ decision-making environment (e.g. definition of crop insurance program regions, participation costs in insurance programs and other decisions that affect farmers’ assessments of costs and benefits). In addition, assessing how farmers perceive and address one particular source of stress, i.e. climate change and variability, must be seen in the context of the broader economic and political context (e.g. interest rates, exchange rates that affect costs of exports and imports and environmental regulation) as well as more regionally-based factors and processes, such as urban sprawl around major urban areas. As a first step, the Advisory or Steering Committee from the partners and stakeholders (Ouranos, MAPAQ, La Financière, UPA, Agriculture Canada) was set up. Second, a temporal analysis of climatic and crop loss information (using yields variability by production type and region relating to drought conditions, and other extreme climatic events (from La Financière)), as well as the regular reports of the Financière on crop growing conditions, was undertaken for the whole of Quebec. Third, the three target regions were identified. For the specific regions retained, an intra-regional analysis of climate-related claims relating to drought conditions (and other extreme climatic events)/losses/yields, was made in order to identify any concentrations (‘hot spots’). Organizing and facilitating focus groups with professionals in the regions retained, as well as farmers in the target regions, were done. Then, an analysis of farm models with and without adaptation was made. After that, the vulnerability at farm, sector and region levels, was assessed.

Since the three regions are very different from each others in many aspects (i.e. topography, municipal conditions, agricultural regions – in terms of climate conditions, soil conditions, crop composition and farm structure), the results of the project should be expected to be different in each region. Also, regarding the management of risk, farms should not necessarily be the same in each region.  The results of the research were divided into three main parts, which are: the level of preoccupation regarding excess rain, drought and freezing conditions, practices that had been modified or that were suggested following past events (excess precipitation, drought conditions and frost), and the most appropriate practices to modify in the future. With respect to the Level of preoccupation regarding excess rain, drought and freezing conditions, excess rainfall represented the primary preoccupation for farmers from the SW Quebec (Montreal) region, while for the Lac-St-Jean farmers it was lack of snow, and for Centre-du-Quebec farmers, the occurrence of low temperatures during the summer. For the professionals from the Centre-du-Québec, the preoccupations were mainly those relating to excess precipitation in the spring, summer drought and insects. For those from the SW Quebec (Montreal) region, the preoccupations were mainly centred on excess rainfall (fall and spring), frosts, insects, diseases, excess heat and drought. In the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region, it was mainly lack of snow, as well as frosts, insects, diseases, excess heat and drought that were the main preoccupations. The perceptions of farmers and professionals from the same region were compared. For example, in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean the professional group was not as preoccupied with strong winds, excess heat and temperatures as were the farmers. The presence of blueberry producers in the focus group certainly explains some of this difference.

Furthermore, talking about the level of preoccupation regarding excess rain, drought and freezing conditions, some slight differences were observed between farmers and professionals in their perception of climatic events. Farmers from the Centre-du-Québec were relatively less inclined to advocate a change in crops (solutions that were proposed by the professionals) and, instead, opted more to change the type of seed used (i.e. the cultivars). On the other hand, the solutions and perceptions of farmers and professionals converged in terms of the importance given to changing the timing of farmers’ work operations, the method of working the land, drainage and of modifying techniques of soil drainage. Generally, farmers had modified different practices in their fields following problems associated with drought (timing, seeding density and choice of seed type). The professionals from the three regions were more inclined to suggest changes in the methods of working the soil. Irrigation was suggested by a minority of participants. And in relation to past problems with frost, most of the professionals suggested modifying the timing of different practices as well as changing crop type in the three regions. Most of the farmers also noted a change in the timing of different work operations as well as the technique of working the soil following freezing conditions. In the Centre-du-Québec and the Lac-Saint-Jean region, crop protection as well as the modification of wind breaks had also been undertaken. In the Lac-Saint-Jean region, the participants noted they had changed seeds and crops in relatively similar proportions (roughly 50 %).           Furthermore, concerning the most appropriate practices to modify in the future, participants were asked whether climate change was important in their region and to assign a value to the different strategies or practices to follow in the future. Generally, the highest values were obtained from the farmers in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region. These emphasized the importance of diversification, of abandoning certain types of crops considered to be vulnerable, and as well of changing crops in order to profit from any rise in temperatures. Farmers in the Lac-Saint-Jean and SW Quebec (Montreal) regions thought it was more important to obtain government assistance but also that it was important to modify agricultural tools and seeds.  Diversification of activities was considered in all three regions. Among agricultural professionals, diversification of activities was of interest in all three regions, as well as modifying ways of working the soil and also soil drainage. Those from the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region assigned much more importance to abandoning vulnerable crops and to changing crops in order to benefit from climate warming and government aid. Professionals from the SW Quebec (Montreal) region appear to want to have farming profit from methanol and ethanol production. Those from the Centre-du-Québec expressed the desire to adjust irrigation techniques to the imperatives of climate change as much as drainage techniques.

To conclude, agriculture is a sector that is naturally sensitive to climate and among the most likely to be affected by changing climatic conditions in the future. However, agriculture under certain conditions has the capacity to deal with and adapt to various challenges. As a result, modern farm managers are now trying to incorporate climatic uncertainty in their decision-making procedures with the objective of minimizing the adverse effects of changing climatic conditions or taking advantage of them on their farm by adopting wise practices and strategies.

Some suggestions of farmers and professionals were made to reduce the risks associated with climate change and variability. In the SLSJ region, crop diversification; development of windbreaks (e.g. snow cover); experiment with new practices; better water management; better advice to the producers; and change crop insurance; were recommended. To the South-West Montreal, the insurance should give credit for various techniques. The yield insurance punished only good farmers and supports poor ones who are not able or do not work to improve their production. In the centre of Quebec, there is a need for retention ponds and buffer zones to the field line instead of draining the ditch water directly to the river. It is evident that there are significant spatial variations both at the interregional and intra regional patterns due to climatic extremes. The variation spatially appears to be as significant as the substantial variation in temporal patterns. It is important to note that vulnerability also encompasses the broader system characteristics, at the community or territorial level, at the region, provincial, federal and broader international levels and recognizing such effects related to multiple sources of stress affecting the farm decision taker. The recognition of the reality of multiple sources of stress affecting the farmers’ decision-making environment also provides us with a clue regarding why farmers perceive climate change and variability with different degrees of ‘urgency’. As a result, agricultural risks are linked to one another. Adopting a holistic approach to risk management is important (Rispoli, 2011). Furthermore, there are significant differences between farmers in their level of awareness and adaptive capacity to deal with climate change and variability. Moreover, a number of results suggest important pointers for public policy and intervention in the field of agricultural adaptation to climate change and variability. Here, the key thread is that of variability and how this presents both a challenge and a set of opportunities for public intervention. While broad policies can be constructed to facilitate adaptation, the significant challenge is that it is at the level of the farmers in their communities that final decisions have to be taken. Public policy and intervention must be able to address the significant patterns of variability that were revealed by the research. Not only do climate conditions vary significantly between regions, they also vary significantly within broad regions (more so in some regions than in others). It is evident from the focus group meetings, that there is also significant variation between farmers in their awareness and ability to adapt, and to recognize the benefits of adapting through integrating appropriate strategies into their farm operations. Thus, on the one hand there are significant challenges in the public sector, perhaps in conjunction with other institutions and organizations such as the UPA and the Clubs Conseils, to undertake significant roles in counselling as advisors to farmers, as information providers and as educators. In addition, it is clear that some farming communities are more aware than others, and therefore perhaps already better able to adapt to the changing environment. Part of this comes from the network of social relationships that is stronger in some regions than in others. Since some of the adaptation strategies that might be considered involve groups of farmers working together (e.g. some drainage schemes), then these advising, information and education roles may also need to be oriented towards building the social capital that underlies such collective adaptation projects. One of the challenges in this is that adaptation may be partly a cultural phenomenon. Other research by the Université de Montréal research team had earlier emphasized that adaptive capacity was strongly related to farmers’ ability to be self-critical and question their current ways of managing and planning their farm operations. And in order to enable the potential of policies and programs to be used effectively to enhance the adaptive capacity of farmers, the issue of adaptation to climate change needs to be addressed more explicitly in the implementation of these policies and programs. Of course, this is more easily said than done.

References:

Houghton, J.T., Meira Filho, L.G., Callander, B.A., Harris, N., Kattenberg, A. and Maskell, K. (Eds.).  1996.  Climate Change 1995: The Science of Climate Change.  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Alcamo et.al, (2010). “The Living Planet Report”. WWF. Retrieved from http://wwf.panda.org/wwf_news/?195695/Tropics-in-decline-as-natural-resources-exhausted-at-alarming-rate–WWF-2010-Living-Planet-report

Haslett, S. (29 Septembre, 2008). Coastal Systems. Introduction to Environment Series. Routledge.  ISBN 0415440610, 9780415440615

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