Written by Victoria Lesy, Matt Orton, Abdul-Rahim Abdulai, Nicole Unterlander, Abigail Van Reisen from the Arrell Food Institute, University of Guelph; in collaboration with Thorsten Arnold, Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario.
Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. A huge cause for concern is changing weather patterns that will put a strain on our potential ability to feed a growing global population and ability to protect ecosystem health. That’s why we, five graduate students at the University of Guelph, have teamed up with the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario (EFAO) to understand the effects climate change is having upon local Ontario farmers.
The relationship between climate change and agriculture is complex; agriculture and the larger food system are main contributors to climate change, accounting for about 30% of global greenhouse production (Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security, 2012). Nitrous oxide accounts for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions, followed by methane and carbon dioxide (EPA, 2018). These are mostly a result of land management practices such as fertilizer application in combination with the destruction of soil microbe communities due to tillage, erosion from unprotected soils that lead to emissions from sediments and water bodies, manure contributions and animal digestion (FAO, 2019).
Agriculture is also the sector that is most threatened by these immense environmental changes. Throughout the globe today, including here in Ontario, climate change is adversely affecting agricultural activities. This situation is only predicted to worsen into the future. Rising temperatures, extreme heat, drought, wildfire on rangelands, and heavy downpours are expected to increasingly disrupt agricultural productivity, which in-turn threatens rural livelihoods, sustainable food security, and price stability (USGCRP, 2018).
It is clear that agricultural practices play a central role in countering and mitigating the impacts of climate change. Many scientists believe this lies largely in the everyday practices of food production. On a global scale, agriculture may even be the cheapest way to sequester carbon (Bui et al., 2018). Reducing reliance on pesticides, decreasing tillage, increasing livestock forage rotations, and implementing more agroforestry systems are just a few ways agriculture may be able to contribute to decelerating climate change (Wilson and Lovell, 2016).
To address these complex issues, innovative farmers in Ontario have dedicated themselves to improving the health of our soils, crops, livestock and the environment through the adoption of ecological farming practices. By developing agricultural methods that promote microbially active and carbon-rich soils, they are working to revert agriculture’s contribution to climate change and the ongoing rapid loss of biodiversity, while simultaneously producing healthy food and fostering thriving rural communities. Such methods also foster resilience in the face of the many challenges posed by a changing climate. Farmers across Ontario are building a movement that is gaining momentum around the world. We have had the opportunity to speak with some of them to capture their experiences.
In this series of stories, we document the experiences of these farmers and their understanding of the dynamics of climate change impacts at the local level. These anecdotes highlight the diversity of climate change experiences by outlining, among other important elements, the specific ways farmers have experienced climate change on their farms and localities; the innovative coping mechanisms being employed by farmers at the local level; and the challenges to effective adaptation to climate change.
These stories will show how local farmers are experiencing the effects of climate change and highlight their innovative approaches to adaptation. They are also aimed at helping farmers see the variety of working practices employed by others at a time when farmer-to-farmer sharing of experiences and knowledge is critical. This will facilitate knowledge sharing around climate change, not only among farming peers, but also between farmers and researchers, and policy actors, to enhance mitigation and adaptation in the agricultural sector.
- Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (2012). Agriculture and food production contribute up to 29 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions according to comprehensive research papers. Retrieved from https://bowvalleycollege.libguides.com/c.php?g=494959&p=3386853
- Environmental Protection Agency (2018). Global greenhouse gas emissions data. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2019). AGP – Agriculture and soil biodiversity. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/agriculture/crops/thematic-sitemap/theme/spi/soil-biodiversity/agriculture-and-soil-biodiversity/en/
- USGCRP (2018). Impacts, risks, and adaptation in the United States: Fourth national climate assessment, Volume II [Reidmiller, D.R., C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, K.L.M. Lewis, T.K. Maycock, and B.C. Stewart (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, 1515 pp. doi: 10.7930/NCA4.2018
- Bui, M., Adjiman, C., Anthony, E., Bardow, A., Boston, A., Brown, S. F., … & Hackett, L. (2018). Carbon capture and storage (CCS): The way forward. Energy and Environmental Science, 11, 1062-1176.
- Wilson, M. H., and Lovell, S. T. (2016). Agroforestry—the next step in sustainable and resilient agriculture. Sustainability, 8(6), 574.