Farming part of the solution to climate change risks


by Drew Spoelstra, Vice President, OFA

As climate change dominates conversations, there is widespread understanding that action should be taken to minimize its impact. However, how exactly Ontarians are experiencing and will continue to experience impacts of climate change has until now been difficult to assess.

To get a baseline understanding of the issue that is supported by evidence and data, Ontario’s Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks commissioned the Climate Risk Institute to prepare a climate change impact assessment.

The final report highlights potential significant negative impacts on our agriculture sector and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) is pleased to see the release of the final report earlier this month as it brings the gravity of the issue and the need for responsible action to the forefront.

My family and I farm within the city limits of Hamilton, and I was part of the advisory panel for this report, providing perspectives of the agricultural sector. For farmers, dealing with the weather is second nature as it impacts everything we do to raise livestock, grow crops and produce food, fuel, fibre and flowers. We know the importance of healthy soils, fresh air, and clean sources of water.

From that perspective, the report didn’t identify any new risks from climate change that we were not aware of previously. We are already dealing with its impacts in the form of extreme weather events, soaring temperatures and droughts, and new crop diseases and pests that can suddenly flourish here as temperatures warm up.

However, the severity and intensity of these impacts looking out to 2080 is concerning and we hope that it will drive additional discussions and actions on climate change between farmers, government, and the people of Ontario.

Farming is a very complex and dynamic system, and it is very difficult to capture that complexity in a provincial-scale climate change impact assessment – especially in the context of the work farmers are already doing to prepare their farms for climate change.

I know first-hand from my own experience milking cows and growing field crops on our farm that the nature of agricultural production and the need to react to growing conditions that are different every year mean that Ontario farmers are inherently an innovative, resilient, and adaptable group.

In fact, adaptation is key for us, and stewardship of the land is a responsibility we take seriously. As farmers, we know that there are best practices that can mitigate our impact on the environment – and many of these have long been in place on Ontario farms already. These are things like reducing tillage and soil erosion, protecting wetlands and watersheds, planting trees, and responsible management of nutrients like manure and fertilizer. Not only does this benefit the environment, but it also helps farms to be both sustainable and profitable.

There is more work to be done, however, and responding to the results of this report and the long-term outlook for climate change impacts will require strong collaboration and respect between the agricultural sector, government, and the people of Ontario.

We will need to focus on building the capacity of farms to recognize the potential impacts of climate change on their farm businesses and develop tailored approaches to mitigating those impacts. Many of these activities often come with a public benefit and farmers will need technical and financial support if we are to remain competitive in a global marketplace and maintain our ability to produce as much of our own food as we can.

Maintaining a strong and healthy supply of land in agricultural production is vital going forward to ensure that we have the adaptive capacity to meet the goals and targets in this impact report. The Province will also need to make ongoing investments to ensure that our critical infrastructure – from hydro and energy to roads, bridges and dikes – can withstand and be resilient to the challenges climate change will bring.

Farmers are and want to continue to be part of the solution.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here