- The increase in temperature will create a longer growing season in Ontario that could extend for an additional 2 months; however the variability in precipitation and extreme heat days will negatively affect things like crop yield, species tolerance and livestock wellbeing.
- Warmer and more humid conditions will create a climate for more pests and diseases to impact crops and livestock. This in turn will impact yield, expenses and pricing resulting in potential food insecurity both domestic and abroad to nations that import Ontario crops and livestock.
- Businesses in the agricultural industry and their supply chains must be prepared for both opportunities and risks of a changing growing season and climate conditions as it will impact their operations and their bottom line.
Global studies across the world show a clear impact on food security as rising temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns change where crops can be grown. In many lower-latitude regions, climate change is having adverse impacts on agriculture. In higher-latitude regions, such as Canada, some crop yields (e.g., maize, wheat, and sugar beets) have seen positive impacts
A regional example: climate change and Niagara wineries
Ontario is seeing similar changes in its grape and wine sector as previously cool climate regions (e.g., Niagara Peninsula and Lake Erie North Shore) have already transitioned to intermediate climate regions and are projected to continue shifting to warm and hot climate regions by the end of the 21st Century.This has both positive and negative implications for Ontario’s wine growers as it influences the type and quality of grapes that can be produced in those regions in the future. For example, warming temperatures will decrease the impacts of freeze damage, while effects of heat stress on the plants will likely increase. Regional climates will change to favour warmer climate grape varieties and potentially make it more challenging to grow cool climate varieties, which have long been the staple for Ontario’s wine growing areas. Such dynamics are not unique to the grape and wine sector; changes in regional climate results in ramifications for foods supplied from other regions across the globe as well as foods that can be grown locally. Climate change therefore presents both risks and opportunities for the agricultural sector in here in Ontario.
An extended growing season for Ontario
Projected warming temperatures in the Toronto Region suggest an extended growing season over this century, increasing by 32 days in the 2050s, and by 51 days by the end of the century. The additional month of growing season projected by the middle of the century in particular has important implications for agriculture in the Toronto region.
The increase in growing season length may allow for greater yields and productivity as crops have a longer period to grow. However, the potential benefits of a longer growing season vary by crop and may be outweighed by other aspects of climate change, such as higher temperatures, variability in precipitation, and increased risk of pests and diseases. For example, though warmer temperatures in Ontario may benefit the growth of some warmer-climate crop species, increased evapotranspiration due to higher temperatures may increase the stress levels in plants and adversely affect crop yields.
Pests and pricing
Warming temperatures and changing precipitation patterns will also change the suitable habitat of several pest species that threaten crops and livestock. Wider distribution of pests can have adverse impacts on yields and quality, prompting additional pest management practices for both familiar and pest species that would be able to thrive in new climate conditions. Areas with high heat and humidity are particularly susceptible to experience new fungal diseases and disease vectors that were previously not a known threat. If plants and livestock cannot effectively resist these new threats, it could mean weaker crops, reduced yields, and an increase in livestock illnesses and deaths.
The cost of increased pesticides, herbicides, and medical care of livestock to combat an increased risk of pests means an increase in operational expenses. With more costs to the farmer, some of them will no longer find it financially feasible to farm . Other farmers will respond by raising their food prices; a cost which is directly passed on to the consumer and impacts the affordability of food. According to IPCC’s Special Report on Climate Change and Land, food prices will rise by 80% by 2050 which will likely lead to food shortages. Under a high emission scenario, foods such as cereals are projected to become 1–29% more expensive in 2050 and would particularly affect low-income consumers.
These combined effects of climate change, amongst others, must be considered with both local and global food systems as it can have significant consequences on Ontario’s overall agricultural sector and food system.
The opportunities and risks of climate change on Agriculture
The impacts of climate change on agriculture in Ontario are complex and present both risks and opportunities. Many of the risks presented are physical, with adverse impacts resulting from heat stress, variability in precipitation, shifting climatic suitability, and increasing ranges of pests and disease. The opportunities for agriculture resulting from climate change may allow for increasing crop yields and the growth of crop species that were previously not suitable for higher latitudes. Climate change will also have important implications for the broader food system, with potential food security risks along any component of the food system (e.g., production, transportation, processing/packaging, and distribution) being impacted by extreme weather or other climatic changes. As discussed in Impact: Buildings and Infrastructure, climate change presents significant physical risks to the region’s infrastructure and supply chain through disruptive extreme precipitation events and flooding.
The City of Toronto’s assessment of climate change impacts on its food system found that the most significant risks to food processing, distribution, and access include extreme precipitation and flooding, extended heat waves, and major ice storms. While this study found that extreme weather could cause significant disruptions to the food system, the risk of widespread disruptions for an extended duration were deemed to be relatively low. However, an important finding from this research was the overall number of stakeholders across the city that would be impacted and the need for broader stakeholder collaboration across the food system to understand and address potential climate change risks.
What does this mean for businesses?
- Climate change will impact Ontario farmers, food producers and all stakeholders involved in the broader food system. Food and beverage companies across the GTA must assess how climate change will impact their primary producers both locally and globally.
- Shifting ranges of suitability may cause some producers to experience lower yields and shortages, while others will experience greater production. This will require a risk-based impact assessment to consider how best to diversify supply chains.
- Businesses across the food system must understand how climate change impacts their operations and production directly, as well as the indirect impacts it has further up or down the value chain. The complex interaction of compounding factors brings inherent uncertainty to local and global climate change impacts. These must be considered under different scenarios to ensure greater resilience to potentially cascading and catastrophic risks.
Climate change will bring a longer growing season to Ontario but with a variety of risks and limitations. Some species of crops and livestock may be able to thrive and increase their yield, while others may decrease their yield, quality, or ability to grow in warmer conditions.
However, extreme heat days and times of drought will put major stress on crops, livestock, and employees working in the industry. Warmer conditions will also allow for more pests and diseases to thrive in places previously too cold to be considered a viable threat to operations. Agricultural businesses will need to conduct risk-impact assessments to understand how climate change will affect their operations and budget.
Partners in Project Green’s Building a Climate Resilient Business Resource Kit provides a foundation in the basics of current climate science, the impacts of climate change on businesses, and mitigation and adaptation strategies. Please explore these resources and connect with us to advance your organization’s climate resiliency.
For more information on climate change mitigation and adaptation from a business perspective:
- Energy Efficiency and Conservation
- Fuel Switching
- Heat Recovery
- Carbon Capture, Utilization and Sequestration/Storage
- Low Carbon Transportation
- Behaviour Change
- Risk Identification
- Risk Analysis
- Risk Evaluation and Prioritization
- Implementation of Risk Interventions
- Monitoring and Review
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