An increase in hotter and drier summers, insect and disease pressures, and extreme weather events are some of the impacts of climate change that are expected to affect agriculture in the Okanagan. A new adaptation plan outlines the priority impact areas and a series of strategies to strengthen the resilience of the Okanagan agriculture sector in a changing climate.
The BC Agriculture and Food Climate Action Initiative (CAI) brought agricultural producers together with local governments and provincial agencies to identify collaborative solutions and actions to adapt to the challenges facing the sector.
“Agricultural producers in the Okanagan need to be aware of the potential impacts of climate change and start planning for the future,” said Erin Carlson, who represents the BC Cherry Association on the Climate Adaptation Advisory Committee. “This strategy is an important starting point. It has brought focus to the discussion and resources necessary to start moving plans into action.”
The implementation of priority actions will be supported by a $300,000 investment from the federal and provincial governments through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. Climate adaptation programming is part of the BC Ministry of Agriculture’s ongoing commitment to climate change adaptation in the agriculture sector, while enhancing sustainability, growth, and competitiveness. These investments help achieve the federal government’s goal to encourage the agriculture and agri-food sector’s leadership in job creation and innovation.
“The $300,000 funding commitment will help Okanagan farmers plan and prepare for changing weather conditions, increased wildfire risk, and changes to pest populations,” said Norm Letnick, B.C. Agriculture Minister. “We’re committed to a sustainable agricultural economy in B.C. and investing in innovation and climate adaptation is a key part of it.”
Climate models show a strong warming trend for the Okanagan, particularly in the summer. Precipitation is expected to decrease in the summer, and increase in the winter, with a marked decrease in the amount falling as snow. Extreme weather events are also expected to become more frequent and more severe. Changes to temperature and precipitation patterns will impact river systems, resulting in less predictability and increased variability in the timing and volume of water flows. Warmer temperatures and higher rates of evapotranspiration will increase demand for irrigation and put pressure on water storage.
“For growers, these changes could have a significant impact on crop yields and quality, as well as increasing the cost of securing the water needed for production,” said Carlson. “We need to be prepared to manage the risks of shifting weather patterns and extreme weather events, as they have the potential to be devastating for the fruit crops that our region is known for.”
The Okanagan Regional Adaptation Strategies report identifies four priority impact areas:
Warmer and drier summer conditions – strategies and actions have been identified to support the sector to prepare for, and respond to drought conditions, as well as maximizing conservation and efficiency in agricultural water management.
Changes to pest populations (insects, diseases, weeds and invasive species) – strategies and actions have been identified to support integrated and cross-sector approaches to pest monitoring and management, as well as enhancing informational resources about pests and climate change.
Increase in extreme precipitation events – strategies and actions have been identified to improve knowledge transfer and resources to address runoff and erosion, and to enhance riparian areas.
Increasing wildfire risk – strategies and actions have been identified to enhance tools and resources for wildfire preparedness and mitigation.
As the action plan is implemented, project results will be shared with the intent of bringing new information, resources, tools and practices into use across the province.
The BC Agriculture and Food Climate Action Initiative was established by the BC Agriculture Council in 2008, and is led by an advisory committee of agricultural producers, food processors and representatives from various government agencies. The Initiative has been supported by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC with funding provided by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the BC Ministry of Agriculture through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.