Ontario Farmers are Adjusting to Impacts of a Changing Climate
Greenbelt Foundation’s Report Profiles Four Ontario Farmers on the Frontline of a Changing Climate and their Unique Ways of Adapting
TORONTO, October 15, 2020 - While farmers have always had to adapt to changing weather year to year, new global shifts in climate patterns are predicted to have major consequences for Canada’s food systems. What are these consequences and what can we do about them? A new report from the Greenbelt Foundation explains.
While farmers have always had to adapt to changing weather year to year, new global shifts in climate patterns are predicted to have major consequences for Canada’s food systems.
Farming in a Changing Climate is the latest in a series of highly visual reports that ask how climate change affects our daily lives. The Greenbelt Foundation launched this series to help Canadians better understand climate change, as well as how they can contribute to climate solutions in their communities. For this issue, the Foundation collaborated with Melissa Luymes, an agri-environmental consultant, as well as four Greenbelt farmers, to get a field-level view of what a rapidly changing climate means for farming in Canada’s Greenbelt—one of the country’s most important food-producing regions. From operating a pick-your-own orchard to a grains and cattle farm, the farmers profiled in this report offer diverse insight.
Key findings from the report indicate that southern Ontario will be facing wetter conditions in the spring and fall, more freeze-thaw cycles in the winter, and hotter, drier summers punctuated with uniquely powerful storms. The impacts of these changes vary. Wet spring conditions can delay planting. Hotter summers put livestock and farm workers at risk. Flash storms can wash away our soils and mid-summer droughts can reduce crop yields. Without deep freezes in the winter, pests and diseases become rampant in new areas. All these challenges are compounded by the pressures of COVID-19.
“Farmers are always at the whim of Mother Nature,” says Amy Ouchterlony, of Fiddle Foot Farm. “But facing a changing climate, we will need to play even more of an intervening role going forward. We’ll have to use all the tools we have in order to keep farming.”
According to the report, improving soil health and managing water will be critical to meeting the challenges of the future. Soil acts like a sponge that holds both water and carbon. Farmers can improve their soils through regenerative agriculture, which includes growing cover crops, minimizing soil disturbance, and feeding microbes in the soil with compost or manure from cattle. Technology will also play a large role. For instance, better weather forecasting instruments will give farmers more time to prepare for disruptive weather, and several companies are developing small autonomous machines that could do planting and mechanical weeding without burning fuel or disturbing the soil.
“A changing climate will have major implications on our food system,” says Luymes. “But I think this report is actually quite hopeful. There is so much that we can do, both as farmers and as consumers.”
She goes on to explain: “The Greenbelt farmers I spoke with are investing in irrigation equipment or hail netting to protect crops. They are also innovating with new and perennial crops. They are getting into regenerative agriculture and drawing down carbon into the soil.” Luymes explains that, “going forward, it will be really important to support local farmers and regenerative agriculture.”
The common takeaways from the four farmers profiled in the report are the importance of soil health, access to water, and of purchasing local food wherever possible. By doing so, we will help support local farmers as they work hard to innovate for the future.
“The impacts that climate change has on agriculture in the Greenbelt will be felt across Canada,” says Edward McDonnell, CEO of the Greenbelt Foundation. “We are helping to build the case for policies and investments that support farmers in adapting to the changing climate. Our Greenbelt farmers are really on the frontlines, looking for innovative ways to ensure you and I have healthy, local food well into the future.”
About Greenbelt Foundation:
Greenbelt Foundation is a charitable organization, solely dedicated to ensuring the Greenbelt remains permanent, protected and prosperous. We make the right investments in its interconnected natural, agricultural and economic systems, to ensure a working, thriving Greenbelt for all. Ontario's Greenbelt is the world's largest, with over two million acres of farmland, forests, wetlands and rivers working together to provide clean air, fresh water, and a reliable local food source.
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