CFFO: OECD report on Climate Change, Water and Agriculture, Part 1: Why it matters in Ontario

By Nathan Stevens –¬†August 22, 2014

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently released a report on their assessment of how climate change, water and agriculture are going to interact in the years ahead. The report is important because it links how a changing climate could impact water availability and thus have a serious impact on the outlook for agriculture. This is the first commentary in a two part series which looks at this paper. This week’s commentary focuses the linkages between climate change, water and agriculture.

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The OECD asserts that water is a central issue to adaptation and climate change in agriculture. Agriculture production depends critically on climatic variables such as temperature and rainfall. Climate change has the potential to shift the amount and quality of water farmers have for their crops and livestock. It has the potential to shift the availability of heat units in different regions, both creating new opportunities and limiting others. The range of these changes can be both regional in scope and continental in scale, and be gradual changes or produce extreme events such as floods and droughts.

The OECD asserts that farmers need to prepare for a variety of uncertainties in the years ahead. The most current understanding of climate change points towards shifts in the amount of precipitation we will receive in a given year. Perhaps more importantly, the likelihood of a shift in the pattern of precipitation will occur. Even if the same amount falls on a given day, if it falls in a ten minute blast instead of a gentle, day-long rainfall, there are implications for how the land absorbs the rainfall. These shifts will have impacts on water quality through changes in runoff flows, river retention and thus loading of nutrients into our lakes. And finally, there are the extreme events of drought and flooding to be managed.

The difficulty with all of these interactions is that we cannot be sure just how mildly or extremely the impacts will be on any region over time. It is difficult to assess the net effects of shifts in a wide array of variables from temperature and rainfall patterns, to shifts in overnight highs relative to daytime highs, and the average winter temperature relative to the average summer temperature. What this means is that there is no simple, quick solution that will work for everyone in every region.

Climate change will be a driving force in agricultural policy in the years ahead. For a province like Ontario, with is rich diversity of landscapes and micro-climates, the potential impacts are incredibly diverse. What this means is that there the set of policy tools we develop to help farmers adapt will need to be flexible and be able to help farmers in any region of the province, whether it is to help realize a new opportunity or meet a new challenge head-on.

Nathan Stevens is the General Manager and Director of Policy Development for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKNX Wingham, and UCB Canada radio stations in Chatham, Belleville, Bancroft, Brockville and Kingston. It is also archived on the CFFO website: www.christianfarmers.org. CFFO is supported by 4,000 family farmers across Ontario.