Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry
Issue 13 - Evidence
OTTAWA, Thursday, March 20, 2003
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at 8:38 a.m. to examine the impact of
climate change on Canada's agriculture, forests and rural communities and the potential adaptation options focusing
on primary production, practices, technologies, ecosystems and other related areas.
Senator Donald H. Oliver (Chairman) in the Chair
The Chairman: I would like to welcome everyone watching us on CPAC and listening to our deliberations over the
I would like to call this session of the meeting to order.
Today we will be continuing our study on the effects of climate change on agriculture, forestry and rural
communities. We will be focusing particularly on impacts and adaptation in the agricultural and forestry sectors.
Honourable senators, we have invited two distinguished scientists for today's meeting. We will hear from Professor
Michael Brklacich from Carleton University who is a professor of geography and environmental studies. He was
involved in the Canada Country Study, the first-ever assessment of the social, biological and economic effects of
climate change on different regions in Canada.
We will also hear from Professor Barry Smit of the University of Guelph. He is a professor of geography, and is also
the manager of the agriculture node of the Canadian Climate Impacts and Adaptation Research Network. In addition,
he was involved as the senior author of the adaptation section of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,
IPCC, third assessment report.
Before inviting the professors to begin, I believe Senator Tkachuk has a preliminary motion that he wants to make.
Senator Tkachuk: I do not have a motion. However, the fertilizer and chemical people in Saskatchewan have
approached me regarding the Department of Agriculture approval of new products for the marketplace. They claim
that the process has been slow, and that they have been tied up in a lot of bureaucratic red tape. They said that other
countries in the world are much more efficient and they at a disadvantage.
I am hopeful that our committee will decide to bring in some of the departmental officials for a one-day meeting. I
think we need an order of reference to call them before the committee. Perhaps we could call the executive members
from the association to come and explain their problem and hear what they have to say about it. I think it would be a
worthwhile effort and I do not think it would take more than one meeting.
Senator Wiebe: I have no objections to that. I do not know whether we need a special motion. It could be dealt with
under our second terms of reference, which is value added. It is a matter of advising the clerk and arranging an
I would like to hear from the industry as well as from the government officials. As you say, that can be done in one
day. The clerk can advise us, but I do not think we need special terms of reference because we do have that other term
The Chairman: The clerk now has notice of that and will look into it and consider it in our next order of reference.
We now move to our two presenters. Please begin your presentation.
Mr. Michael Brklacich, Professor, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, Carleton University: Thank
you for inviting me to come today to discuss this important issue of adaptation by Canadian agriculture to climatic
I would like to start off by saying that I did a couple of things in preparing for this. The first was to read some of the
materials that you have prepared and released, in order to get a better understanding of your commission. I also had a
look at some of the briefs you have received so that I would not duplicate previous information.
When I was going through the information that was released by the committee Senator Oliver commented:
Our committee will undertake an intensive study of how our farming and forestry practices across the country
must adapt to such potential effects as less rainfall and so on. We need to know how we must adapt.
The first thing I want to do is congratulate the committee for putting adaptation to climate change squarely on the
I am going to try to bring you up to date on the status of research regarding climate change and adaptation by the
agricultural sector in Canada; and to talk about the needs in terms of how we can move forward and address questions
such as how we must adapt.
The presentation will be in four parts; the first two will provide some background information. I want to talk about
the climate change research portfolio in its broadest context and illustrate where adaptation fits in. I want to build the
case on why the adaptation perspective needs to be enhanced. I will spend most of my time talking about adaptation
potential, what we know today and how we can improve our understanding.
If you go back to the first assessment by IPCC, and Canada's Green Plan from the 1990s, there were three items in
the climate change research portfolio. One was about the science of climate change in regards to earth system processes
and how human activities are changing those processes and leading to human-induced climate change.
The second item impacts on mitigation.
Mitigation is about trying to stop climate change from happening by changing our activities thereby releasing fewer
gases into the atmosphere. If we continue our activities we must try to sequester those gases in soils, plants, trees or the
The third item was adaptation. What I want to emphasize is almost all of the research done in Canada has focused
on the first two items: the science of climate change and mitigation. Adaptation has been on the agenda all along, but
in the late 1980s it was not discussed. The topic was viewed as an admission that we would not try to mitigate climate
change and that we were throwing in the towel in terms of prevention. It started off slowly and has not been well
studied. It has really only been since the mid-1990s that adaptation has received attention; therefore, relative to the two
other areas, it is the weakest point.
Why do we need to enhance the adaptation perspective in climate change? I would say there are at least two reasons.
One relates to climate itself.
The greenhouse gases we released today on the way to this meeting, whether driving our cars or taking the bus, will
remain in the air for between 20 and 100 years. Even if we could turn off the greenhouse gas emissions from human
activities, they will be with us for some time. There is a legacy involved in greenhouse gas emissions.
Implementing mitigation measures will be an international problem. The Kyoto Protocol is an important but small
first step, and we have had problems implementing that internationally. We must acknowledge that, while mitigation is
very important, it is only part of the solution to the problem.
The last point from a climate perspective is that we know that economic development is tied to the consumption of
carbon-based fuels. The history of North America and Europe shows that fuel consumption was very much linked to
economic development and we can expect to see greater consumption of carbon-based fuel in the future. For climatic
reasons, we need to enhance adaptation perspectives. We are committed to some level of climate change.
We need to enhance adaptation perspectives from an agricultural perspective, as well. Agriculture is a key economic
sector in Canada and will continue to be, although it is already under extreme stress. If you read through the scientific
literature, there are comments about agriculture being a very adaptive sector, which is correct. If we look at agriculture
today and compare it to 1950, it is different. That is the timeline we are talking about in terms of climate change.
However, I would argue that the pathway has not been smooth and has been particularly tragic for much of the
farming community. A key public policy area would be to find a way to lessen the shocks associated with adaptation.
We need to understand adaptation better both from climatic and agricultural perspectives.
We often see mitigation and adaptation as opposites in the climate change agenda. It time we start thinking of them
as complementary activities. Any long-term solution to climatic change will involve both.
In terms of climate change and understanding agricultural adaptation in the sciences, there have been three
approaches in terms of trying to understand how climate change might affect agriculture and how it might adapt.
One is learning from the past. We look at past experiences and try to understand how adaptation has occurred and
apply those to issues of climate change.
Another involves technical feasibility, and the final one is the most current, which is putting climate change and
agriculture in a broader context, in terms of trying to understand the issue. I will work quickly through each of these
A variety of people have had a look at a recent report by Professor Smit, in which he put forth four different focuses
of adaptation. There are other ways to divide it, but this one works fairly well. One approach is to talk about
technological developments, which could involve new information systems on farms, or feed rations and how they are
developed. It is done in a very scientific way compared with 50 years ago, and represents a major technological
innovation that has led to efficient feeding of livestock across Canada. It also has implications for climate change in
coming up with efficient rations.
Public policy can be viewed as a form of adaptation. In Canada, we have a long history of support from central
government to the agricultural sector, to ensure agriculture is protected from price shocks and so on.
Another approach is to change production practices. One example, under land use, would be what is happening in
the Prairies today. We see much better management of snow. It is captured on the field, remains on the field and, after
it melts, it is stored in the soil as water and made available to crops in the summertime. We have seen many advances in
terms of land use; that is one example.
Financial management is another way, in terms of broad areas of adaptation. Crop insurance has been a popular
option to, if you will, weather out some problems associated with climate variability.
Those are four broad categories of learning from the past. One attribute of this approach is that it is comprehensive.
There is now a thorough understanding of adaptation options available and, because it is based upon what is happened
in the past, it has immediate credibility within the community. It does not consider individual stressors, but because
these are looking at forms of adaptation that occurred at the farm level and in the context of public policy, many
stresses are imbedded within adaptation options, although they may not necessarily be identified individually. Change
and adaptation are normal parts of agriculture. It is not a sector that sits still.
One of the limitations, from the point of view of climate change, is this approach considers current variability, but
not long-term climatic change. Whether the options will work in the future is something we need to think about,
speculate and work on.
A second approach has been to try to model the technical feasibility and efficiency. We have seen a variety of crop
models developed and applied in the Canadian context. They tend to estimate how plants will develop after seeding all
the way through to maturity and harvest. There are a variety of farming models that will allow us to estimate farm
profitability or issues of cash flow on the farms. These models are very good at looking into the future in some ways, in
terms of how changes in climate and adaptation options might dampen the potential negative effects of climate change.
The coverage we have had to date has been rather piecemeal. We have seen a few studies in a few regions of Canada.
Almost all the focus has been on cereals. Canadian agriculture is much broader, however, and we have seen it applied
to a handful of adaptation options, such as earlier seeding, irrigation, movement toward greater use of winter cereals
and alternative cultivars.
In the Prairies and Peace River regions longer season cultivars were seen to the potential negative effects of climate
change on wheat yields. Winter wheat opportunities expanded in the southern Prairies, but not necessary the north.
Irrigation would obviously be a way to offset moisture stresses.
The economics and practicality of trying to capture more water for agriculture have not been tested under these
approaches. Only the technical feasibility has been assessed. In Central Canada, we have similar studies looking at
opportunities for new field crops in northern areas, as well as greater opportunities for fruits and vegetables in some of
the southern parts of Ontario and Quebec.
The attributes associated with the approach have been to look at multiple climate change scenarios and that is
important because we do not know exactly where climate will go. The way of handling that uncertainty is to consider
several scenarios. As well, adaptation options can be considered. It can be applied to broad areas; we can replicate the
studies. Again, I want to emphasize that we really have a variety of spot checks across Canada; it has not been a
systematic assessment. It has been applied to a few regions and a few crops.
The last point, and the most important one here, is that the practicality and acceptability has been largely untested
in terms of the work done within the science community.
I turn now to the area of climate change and situating it in a broader context. The first two approaches I talked
about start by posing a scenario for climate change and assume that would be a major driver within the agricultural
sector. There is good reason to do that. We know that climate and agriculture are very much linked. However, in the
last five years, there has been an effort to broaden that context and to situate climate change within the broader context
of those many stressors facing agriculture today, the sorts of things recognized by this committee.
This approach looks at climate change and does not assume that it will be a major driver. It tries to put it in the
context of globalization of agriculture, changing environmental regulations in Canada and how that will affect
agriculture, and the whole suite of things that farmers and the agricultural sector must adjust to and face on a day-to-
day basis. This is fairly new work. The coverage to date has been a few farm level studies with a few spot checks in the
Prairies, Ontario and Quebec.
As to the preliminary findings from this work, we now know for sure that adaptation is a very complex process. It is
often not a discreet activity; it takes place over several seasons on the farm. It is often put in the context of
understanding several stressors at once. They are looking for strategies that might reduce risk to many factors, of
which climate change might be only one. Some of the work we did in the Ottawa area pointed out to us that not all
types of agriculture will be impacted uniformly by climatic change.
By one way of example, the larger livestock farms in the Ottawa area really did not see climatic change as much of a
threat. Some of the smaller farms that already were seeing themselves as being potentially vulnerable to all sorts of
threats, not being viable over the long time, looked at climate change with considerably different views. They saw it as
perhaps another stressor that they could not cope with relative to the ones they were already facing in the region.
This notion of differential vulnerabilities, that is, understanding how different parts of the agriculture sector are
vulnerable and which ones are more resilient, is crucial in terms of what has come out of this work.
We also looked at adaptive capacity as a system property. Just as we can measure precipitation during the growing
season, I think we should be able to measure how different types of agriculture can adapt, and we should develop that
as a system property.
We are looking at adaptation in terms of adaptation to multiple stressors as being very much a farm level strategy
now rather than looking at it in terms of adapting just to climatic change.
We have learned while working with farmers is that often they are concerned about responding to climatic extremes
rather than responding to long-term changes in climatic averages or norms. We need to think about how we frame our
questions in the context of extremes as well as long-term changes in average conditions.
This approach has provided us, I think, with a number of points. Clearly it is important to set climatic change within
the context of multiple stressors. Do not think of it as the only thing that is happening to agriculture. Differential
vulnerabilities will be key to our success in the long term in understanding this. From a public policy point of view,
identifying those areas that are most vulnerable would be a good starting point in terms of where we might apply scarce
resources. We now understand a bit more about adaptation in terms of the comprehensive strategies behind it, but I do
want to emphasize that all this is preliminary. We have had very few studies in terms of adaptation at the farm level. I
want to emphasize that all this work has been at the farm level, and clearly agriculture is much broader than what
happens at the farm. We have had not have a systematic assessment across Canada as yet. It has been opportunistic
research by a handful of researchers in various parts of Canada.
That gives you a sense of how social sciences have contributed to adaptation research over the last five to 10 years,
and I will now spend some time on where we might go next.
It is important to work hard to recognize adaptation as an equal partner in a full portfolio of climatic change
studies. If we leave it as this little thing dangling at the end, progress will be difficult.
Much of the research I described today was supported by standard grants from the Social Science Humanities
Research Council, with some funding from the Climate Change Action Fund, but there has not been a strategic
granting of funds to address adaptation as an activity within Canadian agriculture. As a result, the funding has been
piecemeal and for small areas. We must stabilize that whole area of funding so that we can think about adaptation over
a longer term and study it with the depth required.
Most of the work we have had so far has looked at particular parts of the agricultural sector. We need more
``plough-to-plate'' studies where we think about the links between the farm and how food gets onto our dinner table.
There are many steps in between, and the linkages within the agricultural sector and between the agricultural sector
and other sectors and how adaptation and climate change fit into that have not been studied.
Much of the research we have seen so far has been done in an opportunistic way, and certainly a set of programs
that would lead to country-wide comparative assessments would improve our understanding enormously.
The next three points deal with the area of improving our understanding of differential vulnerabilities. We have
early work on that subject, but it is not well understood. We have to do more work in terms of actually trying to
measure vulnerability and trying to predict it. There is a whole set of activities there. In the social sciences, we call the
promotion of situated adaptation studies ``contextualizing'' the research.
We have not talked much about understanding how climate change fits into the broader suite of forces that are
impacting agriculture, but we certainly have found that different types of agriculture will work well within a certain
range of conditions. Then, all of a sudden some threshold is hit, and we will see some sort of catastrophic response in
terms of the farm economy. Trying to understand where those thresholds are and what sort of events they trigger is
something that needs to be added to the agenda.
I have not talked about it today, but we have had very little work in terms of institutional fit. Do we have the right
institutions in place to actually deal with questions related to climatic change and agriculture in Canada?
Most of our institutions were developed long ago without thinking about climatic change as a forcing factor, and so
I think studying whether or not our institutions are the right ones or whether they need to be adjusted is certainly part
of that agenda.
I argue that one of the overall goals we need to establish is that adaptation can be seen as a means to try to reduce
the vulnerability of the agricultural sector to climatic change and as a way to try to improve resilience so Canadian
agriculture can respond not just to climate change but other stressors it will face between now and the next several
The Chairman: Thank you. That was excellent presentation. We will have questions for half an hour before going to
You referred in your remarks to crop insurance. As you know, this committee was recently in Saskatchewan, British
Columbia and Alberta. During that trip, we were told that farmers in some areas based their cropping decisions on the
return they could expect from crop insurance. Do you think that crop insurance in its current design is an impediment
to adapting and adaptation?
Can you give us some examples of government programs that might hinder adaptation to climate change?
How can climate change considerations be incorporated into farm income safety net programs?
What changes to crop insurance and the net income stabilization account should be made, in your view?
Mr. Brklacich: I am not a crop insurance specialist. I notice my colleague here is just chomping at the bit to respond
to that. He has done some work on crop insurance.
By its very nature, I think insurance promotes certain behaviours.
There have been arguments that, by having auto insurance, we drive more recklessly because we are distributing the
risk over a larger area. Farmers gear their agricultural activities toward many different forces. If they have the
protection of crop insurance that is something they consider.
Is it stopping adaptation, or is it not promoting adaptation? I am not quite sure how to respond to that. If one
believed truly in the free market, I guess you would say ``yes.'' However, I am not sure that is necessarily the way we
would want to go, to remove that safety net from the agricultural sector.
The Chairman: Have you done any studies dealing with the effect of crop insurance, and the effect it will have on
Mr. Brklacich: I have not looked at that directly.
The Chairman: Perhaps we can put that question to Mr. Smit when we hear from him. In the meantime, we will
proceed with questions from senators. There is a long list, beginning with Senator Wiebe.
Senator Wiebe: When we were in Lethbridge, one of the witnesses said that capturing water is not the route to go
because it is far too expensive. However, I think that is one of the routes we should consider.
The committee has heard me make the statement that we will not lose water with global warming, it just will fall
someplace else. In addition, that three-day rain we may have had in the past will now come in an hour and a half.
What do we do with our cities? What do we do with our small rural communities? What do we do with our farms if
there is no water available to them?
Should we recommend more studies on the capture of water?
Mr. Brklacich: I am not sure I would limit the studies to the capturing of more water. From the little bit I
understand about climate change, one of the things we know is that precipitation might become more variable. To have
precipitation concentrated in a few events rather than distributed more evenly over a season is a major change for the
We cannot think about this solely as an agricultural problem. It is easy to think about water being plentiful and it is
compared to many other parts of the world. However, I think we can anticipate more competition for that increasingly
scarce resource, and the agricultural sector will be one of the bidders.
When we look at multiple stressors, one of those will be what will happen to Canada's water resources? As urban
Canada grows it will place greater demands on our water resources. Will agriculture be able to compete for that
Adaptation research and the entire area of water availability as it relates to climate change should be on the agenda.
Senator Wiebe: What would be the right institution to study adaptation because you said that the right institution
was not in place?
Mr. Brklacich: I was not quite so forceful as to say there is not the right institution. I was just asking the question:
Do we have the right institutions in place? I do not know whether we do or not.
I have not seen any direct studies in terms of climate change, Canadian agriculture and how these institutions work.
I was not being as bold as to suggest that we do not have the right institutions in place.
However, let us see if we can deliver adaptation strategies more effectively through different institutional
arrangements. The entire question of fit is something that ought to be studied. I do not know the answer to your
Senator LaPierre: I think you are right; we do not have the right institutions.
Mr. Brklacich: Senator Wiebe is right.
Senator LaPierre: It seems to me that you ought to do a study for us. We should put together a group of three or
four scientists from across the country to prepare a report for this committee on what sort of adaptation institution we
need. Is that possible? Do you people talk to each other?
Mr. Brklacich: Yes, we do talk to each other. It would be possible to do some assessment of the institutions that are
available today. I want to emphasize that it is not just government institutions.
Farmers talk about their local arrangements, which often are informal institutions that are crucial to their well-
being. So, yes, it would be possible to mount such an expedition.
Senator LaPierre: Done.
Senator Tkachuk: Canada is a wonderful place. You come here as a witness and you get a contract.
Mr. Brklacich: Usually someone from outside of Canada has to tell you that this is a good idea before the contract is
awarded, so this is a novel arrangement.
Senator Gustafson: I am pleased to hear scientists are behind the move of adaptation for farmers. In Tokyo the
WTO said that our federal and provincial governments' support of farmers is half of the average of other industrialized
In this area of adaptation and the stress that agriculture is experiencing we find ourselves so far behind the
Europeans and the Americans that it is frightening. Many other nations have come to grips with the environmental
challenges. It is going to cost a lot of money to make the necessary changes. In my 50 years of farming I have never
seen conditions as bad as they are right now.
It is very important that people of your status put forth information to government, farmers and to the general
public. I could not agree more with Senator LaPierre; something must be done. I would like your comments.
Mr. Brklacich: I agree. The research program that we have that is looking at climate change and the vulnerability of
agriculture in Western Quebec and Eastern Ontario, is pointing out many similar things.
The stresses that agriculture is under are extreme. While working with a focus group of farmers in Western Quebec
we heard stories of both young and old farmers leaving their farms because they had ceased to be profitable. The
agricultural sector is changing both externally and internally and has to adapt to both stresses.
We must lobby in a variety of different places. Those of us who work in universities have, as part of our social
responsibility, to teach the new adaptation methods.
The opportunity to meet with a committee like this gives us a chance to have an influence on public policy.
In the field of research we must lobby the granting councils to make this issue a high priority. The entire area of
adaptation and climate change should be on SSHRCs agenda more clearly than it is.
Senator Gustafson: Farmers are concerned about credits and the role that they are going to play within the Kyoto
Protocol. Have you done any work on carbon credits and Kyoto?
Mr. Brklacich: I have not looked specifically at the area of carbon credits and trade. Internationally, though, there
are a variety of questions that must be asked.
It could distort trade and development issues, in terms of the whole area of carbon credits and carbon trading,
because it will become very appealing for countries like Canada to trade with countries that have carbon credits. Those
will be the ones that are not low-end in terms of economic development, but will be the ones that are sort of in the
One of my concerns from a global agriculture perspective is what this will do to agricultural development in some of
the poorest nations in the world. We might see some distortion of ODA that could lead to a more difficult set of
opportunities for agriculture in the developing world than in those areas where it is needed most. That is certainly
going well beyond the bounds of this country, but it is something that we must think about and how it works out.
Senator Gustafson: Is there a nucleus of informed people who are studying this subject at this time?
Mr. Brklacich: The area of carbon credits and trading is a huge area of study. I am not aware of whether carbon
credits and trading of carbon credits, and their impact on Canadian agriculture, has been studied so far.
Senator Ringuette: Your presentation relates to studies that have been done in the Prairies, Ontario and Quebec.
Have similar studies been done in the Atlantic region?
How much study will be done in the complementary field of forestry and agriculture?
For both income and efficiency, most of our Atlantic farmers are also private woodlot owners. That practice seems
to have been financially beneficial for them.
How do you share your findings with your colleagues and with the farming sector? It appears that multiple research
projects are being performed across the country. How do you communicate that to the people that need to put policies
in place? Do you have a yearly research summit? What is being done and what needs to be done?
Mr. Brklacich: I did not discuss the Maritimes in this presentation because the focus has been on adaptation and to
my knowledge there have not been any studies conducted concerning that issue in that area. Climate change and
agriculture have been studied in the Maritimes.
A colleague at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Andy Bootsma, has done a lot of work in possible changes in
agro-climatic properties, such as frost dates and precipitation. That reconnaissance work has been done, but I do not
believe there have been many studies that have gone on to look at potential effects on crop yields and how farms might
adapt to the changes.
Although I think adaptation has been lagging behind in the agenda, it has been doing a little better in other parts of
Canada. We have not seen the adaptation agenda applied in the Maritimes.
As to the links between agriculture and forestry I agree. It has been a long time since I have done any work in the
Maritimes, but it is impossible to separate those two. I think you have pointed out that this whole area, which I would
call ``situated research,'' is something we need to think about more generally. To separate agriculture and forestry is
just simply not a starting point, because they are inextricably linked in different parts of Canada.
A number of years ago, we did some similar work in Renfrew County. Many of the farmers there had similar sorts
of arrangements, where they would have agriculture in the conventional sense of growing crops and livestock
husbandry as part of their operation. They would also have maple syrup and a woodlot as well.
I will talk about the last point in terms of sharing with the farming community and not with the policy community. I
am not aware of an annual farm summit that discusses these issues.
I assume Mr. Smit will talk about agriculture, climate change impacts and adaptation networks for agriculture at
the University of Guelph. I will leave that to him.
Let me explain the way we do things at our research program at Carleton. There has been a response across Canada
and internationally, in the sense that scientists did much of the work on climate change and agriculture without
involving the farming community. It was done through a series of modeling exercises, with people hypothesizing about
what might happen.
Several years ago, we put that on hold when we realized that it was the farmers who needed to recognize and
respond to climate change and the other stressors. A number of us have therefore changed that research agenda. Now
our starting point is working with the farm community.
If you wish, you can join me next week in Alexandria for a focus meeting of farmers from Eastern Ontario. We will
talk about the sort of things that have changed on their farm over the last 20 years or so and how they have coped with
the changes. We try to get understanding of the pressures that are associated with that particular region.
In the second hour, we will talk about climactic change and where that might fit in to the changes that they have
experiences. That becomes the departure point for our research. Then, we get into a more standard social science
questionnaire approach and do a number of in-depth surveys.
We are running behind schedule, so that will occur sometime later in 2003. We will not try to do it in the summer.
Trying to get farmers to cooperate and do questionnaires in the summer is not a good idea.
After the questionnaires have been answered we will reconvene the focus group meetings and tell them our findings
and give them our interpretation of our findings. In this way they become the conduit between our research and the
broader farming community. We have been doing this for a few years.
This research involves getting a commitment from the farming community. It requires development of a sense of
trust by both parties. As part of that, we have found that we have to point out what is in it for them. Why would they
want to participate if they thought there was nothing in it for them? We are careful to point that out.
One of the benefits that the farmers receive is the information that we give them concerning climate change and
agriculture. This process allows them to have an indirect influence on policies made concerning the agricultural sector.
The Chairman: Do you have copies or summaries of those reports? The information contained in them might be just
what we are looking for.
Mr. Brklacich: I will ask the farming communities if they would agree to share that information with you.
Senator Fairbairn: In our travels in Alberta I sensed that there is a lot going on within our institutions on the issue of
climate change vis-à-vis agriculture.
It is fair to say that the research institutions have been scrambling to come together with cohesive research programs
to get the funding for this issue? Is it necessary to have a national linkage between important issues such as water? The
linkage might not be obvious to people in southern Alberta who find out that their wonderful irrigation system works,
but it only works when the mountains are producing a run-off for us.
A young family man, a lifetime career farmer told this committee that within a year or two he will take his family
and leave his farm. The notion of the lost community weighs heavily on the people of Saskatchewan and Alberta. It is
not just the loss of our agriculture, but also the loss of our towns and our history.
Adaptation must be one of the most important things this committee studies. People who have gone through
episodes of drought understand what adaptation means.
Drought is different all across the country. People from Labrador talk about drought as do the farmers in the
Annapolis Valley. There are different types of drought and different types of adaptation.
How do we develop a communications system that will be understood, not by a Senate committee, but by the
Mr. Brklacich: When I meet with the agricultural committee I am always delightfully encouraged as to how well
informed they are concerning climate change issues.
My brother-in-law farms near Brighton, Ontario and he sent me a newspaper article from his local newspaper. A
former geographer, I will not mention his name, wrote that climate change was not real. I spent a half-hour on the
phone with my brother-in-law, explaining to him that he should not be swayed by the geographers' interpretation of
I site this example to state that we must provide our evidence in a coherent way. It can be very confusing when one
expert claims that climate change is indeed occurring while at the same time another is claiming that it does not exist.
We must provide the farmers and the general public with a consistent message.
I would like to return to your comment about community and its importance in adaptation. You have hit the nail on
the head. The issues do not just concern the growing of wheat but the health and welfare of our agricultural
communities. The social fabric of the communities is crucial to adaptation as well.
If you live in Western Quebec the closest farm implement dealer is in Carp, Ontario. They have their parts delivered
to Carp, Ontario, in a timely way. The farmers in west Quebec are worried that their communities are being eroded.
Yes, the agenda should not just be about growing crops and animal husbandry; it should be very much about the
social fabric of rural communities. We should look at adaptation and agriculture in a holistic way.
Senator Fairbairn: Thank you for that answer, and thank you for what you are doing.
Senator Tkachuk: I want to know what you think we can do.
We do have the debate, despite what you say, about the other climatologists or geologists who may not agree with
you on climate change. We have a debate on the severity and complexity of climate change. We also have a scientific
debate as to what is causing it.
Agriculture faces a number of stresses. I have compiled a list from what we have heard over the last while. There is
new competition and world productivity; there are subsidies by the Americans and the Europeans; there are new
environmental and regulatory concerns; and bureaucrats are becoming involved in the agricultural community. They
all know one thing for sure: climate change and adaptation are going to cost us more money. The new science that
genetically modifies food is extremely expensive.
We need research. How much more research money do you think it will take? Did you think it should be centralized
or do you think it should be distributed to the university communities for them to decide? Do you think it should go to
the national research councils or the provincial research councils? We have a number of institutions that could receive
research funds. We can increase incentives to private industry to spend more money on research. There are all kinds of
avenues that we can use. I would like your comments on that. Who is the best to establish priorities?
Mr. Brklacich: I am not sure I can answer that question without declaring a conflict of interest, being in the
Senator Tkachuk: I think it should go to the universities. That is my view.
Mr. Brklacich: I agree wholeheartedly with Senator Tkachuk. Canada is huge country and you do not have to travel
very far to find that agriculture in one part of the country is different from agriculture in another part of the country. I
cannot imagine a one-size-fits-all solution working at all.
At the same time, we are a country and we need to have a unified response. We need a set of standards that will
promote comparative research so that when I get a question about what is going on in the Maritimes I can answer it
more fully than I was able to today.
Can we suggest some standardized tools to ensure that there is the broad coverage and is not left up to scientists like
myself? We should have it targeted and a process for distributing the funds to ensure the Maritimes, Central Canada
and the Lower Mainland are covered as well.
Not having put a lot of thought into it, some set of national standards that would allow for comparative national
assessments should be something we can aim for. There are some of us who have an interest in doing that. Having the
work done locally is crucial.
I worked with Agriculture Canada many years ago and I found that out one of worse things one can do is go to the
extremes of the country and introduce yourself as a person from Ottawa. That was a way to get a ticket out of town
rather than getting your research going. A coordinated response would be a more effective way.
Who would be best able to do that? I do not think there would be one agency that could take it as its own task.
When I look at the problem of climate change and adaptation by agriculture and other sectors, it is not a problem that
neatly fits into our funding structures. Do we need a new funding structure or some sort of consortium of funding? I
am not quite sure what we need.
In the context of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, there are many things they can do well, but
there are many questions about the natural science that are part of that package as well. We have had experience in the
past with tri-council funding. Perhaps we should resurrect something along those lines.
I do not have a well thought out answer for you.
Senator Tkachuk: I want to pursue this for a minute because it is important.
Do you think if the money travels out of the federal government or out of the provincial governments to universities
that it should not be pegged? You may disagree, but I feel that the university community should decide on their own
priorities. I am concerned that if you peg it other areas will suffer. Governments tend to take from one area to give to
another. How would that work? Do you think they should be pure research grants or targeted research grants?
Mr. Brklacich: I favour targeted research grants. If you want to get Canadian agriculture to adapt to climate change,
you need a targeted program that spells out the need for research. There is fundamental research to be done to address
that question. Adaptation to climate change is a sort of question that the social sciences could take on and study as a
social science issue. How do we study social vulnerability? That is a difficult thing to do.
Senator Tkachuk: Do you think that universities in the Prairies will make those decisions on their own without
having that targeted money? They know that climate change is an issue, but they also know that we have a problem
with genetically modified food in the Prairies and so on.
Mr. Brklacich: In the area of climate change, adaptation will continue to languish as the very weak third partner. If
the objective is to have a better understanding of adaptation, then it will be very important to make clear that the work
is tied to adaptation. That is a way to get the researchers' attention. If it is a proposal that is oblivious to the overall
intent, they will get what they deserve.
Senator Gustafson: The subject that Senator Tkachuk raised is very important. When Prime Minister Trudeau came
to Regina, the farmers threw wheat in his face. He told the farmers that because they could not make up their minds
what to do and that he was going to make the decision for them.
This is a difficult subject. We cannot keep medicare across Canada. How are we going to manage to keep
agriculture? Don Wise tried to get the Canadian farmers to agree and could not. How do we get Canadian farmers to
agree that something must be done and to agree on what will be done?
Senator Hubley: I am quite shocked to hear that adaptation is not being studied in the Maritimes.
We are back at the issue of how the scientific community communicates its information to the farmer.
At the top, we have the scientific and teaching communities, and from the bottom up we have the farm
organizations. The Maritimes have corporate farms that have staff scientists who give advice to the farmers and
forestry people. In between those two, we have research stations.
We have not looked at the role that research stations play in ongoing field trials. Perhaps they are making
adaptations by the very fact that they are operating, because they are selecting the strongest and the best variety of
crops and trees to grow.
What are we missing? Are there other areas at which we should be looking to bridge those gaps? We have a concern
that the information that the scientific community has is not getting to the farmer in a meaningful way.
Mr. Brklacich: A lot of our research is done in a piecemeal way in the context of how to get crops to grow more
efficiently. In the research community, sometimes we look at agriculture as being simply about growing crops. If we
could situate that work in the context of what it means to live in a rural community I think we would have a better
chance of developing those links between the research and farm communities.
There have been lots of successes in terms of delivery of research to the farm gate. I am not suggesting that is not the
case. However, I think that we can better situate that research within the realities of agriculture. I think that is a good
place to try to start so we can connect the research community to the rural communities. That is a partial answer.
Senator Jack Wiebe (Deputy Chairman) in the Chair.
The Deputy Chairman: I would like to call on Barry Smit to make his presentation.
Mr. Barry Smit, Professor, Department of Geography, University of Guelph: I am not only an adaptation researcher,
with 23 years of experience in Canada and elsewhere, I also am a product of adaptation in Canadian agriculture.
You may notice that I have a funny accent. That is a result of adaptation to climate risks in Canadian agriculture.
My grandparents were homesteaders on the Prairies. My father was born in Trochu, near Three Hills, in southern
Alberta. My family was eking out a living on a farm in southern Alberta in the 1930s. Obviously, there were some
economic stresses on farming at the time, and also a series of years that were very dry, that created further stress. My
family was one of those that had to abandon their farm. My father rode the rails to Vancouver, got on a boat and
ended up in New Zealand. That is why I talk funny.
You can have that sort of adaptation: Wait until the effects are felt and then do the best you can, including moving
elsewhere; or you can be aware that these risks exist, and think about proactive ways that you can reduce those risks.
That is the essence of adaptation as I see it. It is managing risks that are real and apparent, not just to the environment,
but also to the livelihood of the Canadian agri-food sector and the communities that are dependent upon it.
If you go to page 3 of my brief you will see that the first heading is ``Adaptation is Part of the Response to Climate
Change.'' The diagram below the heading illustrates the point. Given that there are things to worry about with regard
to climate change, the policy response is either mitigation; try and reduce emissions and capture carbon so the climate
change is not as great; or adaptation to the conditions so you are not affected so badly by them; and realize
opportunities that might result from these changes.
In Canada, we spend a lot of time talking about, analyzing and considering programs for mitigation, but we have
done very little with regard to adaptation. I congratulate this committee for addressing this issue and making it your
This lack of attention is surprising, because Canada is committed to promoting adaptation. The UN framework
convention, on which the Kyoto Protocol is based, is about reducing emissions and capturing carbon, but it is also
explicitly about promoting adaptation.
The Canadian Change Plan for Canada deals with emissions reductions, but includes a commitment to develop
awareness of impacts and address them through adaptation. The federal and provincial ministers of environment and
energy met in May of last year and supported the development and implementation of a national adaptation
You asked about institutional arrangements to address this issue. Some progress already has been made. The
elements of this framework are: to raise awareness of adaptation; to facilitate the capacity for action on adaptation; to
coordinate adaptation into government programs; to promote research on adaptation; to support networks, the
communication point that many of you have been bringing up; and to provide methods for adaptation planning. This
is an impressive statement of intent.
Canada has the Climate Change Action Fund that supports among other things some research on adaptation to
climate change. There also is the Canadian Climate Impacts and Adaptation Research Network, which encourages
research and enhances communication. I will come back to C-CIARN.
However, there has been very little action in the agriculture sector, and in the government concerning adaptation.
They have all sorts of programs that look at gas emissions: gas coming in the front end and back end of cows, from
soil to plants and so forth, measuring it with all sorts of research programs, targeted and otherwise. To my knowledge,
there is no program within Agriculture Canada and other agricultural agencies that looks explicitly at adaptation. The
risks that the agriculture sector is confronted with and will be in the future are related to climate and climate change.
My third point is that the agri-food sector is going to be harmed by climate change. I understand you already are
well aware of this. I noted that many of you used the term ``global warming.'' That is a common paraphrase for climate
change that makes us think of a gradual increase in temperature. For many forms of agriculture in Canada, a gradual
increase in temperature is actually a good thing. We will be able to have longer growing seasons, and a wider variety of
crops to choose from and so forth. There may well be benefits from a gradual increase in temperature.
Some people talk about the northward movement of agriculture in Canada. Be a bit cautious about that; you
quickly run out of soil in most places. The key thing is that climate change is more than just global warming. Most of
our climate models are well developed to look at average temperature. We hardly ever get average climate. The average
is something you look at later on. We get the variation from year to year.
On page 5, figure 2 we see drought severity. The severity of drought or degree of dryness varies from year to year.
Some years are very dry; we call them droughts. Some years are wet and we call them floods. The average year is
something we can get by with. Most systems can accommodate minor deviations from the average. In the area of the
chart that I have labelled the ``coping range'' you might change the term to its ``adaptive capacity.''
With climate change, all of these conditions will shift. The average year may still be within the coping range. You
can still handle an average year, even considering climate change, and it might be good. You will notice that even
without change in the variability; the magnitude of the extremes, with a change in the mean you will get a change in the
frequency and magnitude of some extremes. Here, it would be more frequent and more serious droughts. If you want
to look at it in scientific terms, you can say the probability of an extreme year may become one and three from one in
When you think of climate change, do not just think of global warming. It is all of these changes in other conditions,
which are often far more relevant for the agricultural sector. The IPCC has already acknowledged that climate change
is not just about change in temperature. It also indicates that we can expect changes in the frequency of these
anomalous years. Some conditions will become less frequent; however, some will become more. In Canada, we can
look forward to more frequent and widespread droughts. We might be getting them now.
The hazards that agriculture already faces, which are probably unrelated to climate change, are likely to be
exacerbated by climate change. This does not mean you have to predict these precisely, because you cannot do that.
However, we do know that there will be a change in the risks that agriculture has to deal with along with all these other
Vulnerabilities in the agri-food sector are not just threats to the environment. It is not that the soil will be
threatened, or the water. The threats are to the financial viability of farming operations. The threats are to the viability
of regional agricultural systems, rural communities and agri-business. The environmental change is not so much an
environmental issue, but an economic and livelihood issue. It is about the future of sectors of our economy and society.
Do not just talk about climate change as an environmental issue.
Many of these risks are already apparent. I understand you have had good documentation of the risks. The
Canadian Wheat Board economists estimate that the 2001 drought cost approximately $5 billion.
The 2002 drought, in many parts of Canada, was more severe in its implications for the economy. You cannot say
that a particular drought is caused by climate change, but you sure as heck cannot say it is unrelated either. Climate
change science says we can expect changes in the frequency of these sorts of events, so we should expect them. The fact
that we are getting serious droughts is obviously a problem for us.
Producers have identified this and we have actually done some work on producer perspectives. In the mid-1990s, we
went to producers and asked about the conditions they were grappling with. They identified drought and excessive rain
as problems, not just average temperature. These extremes are a problem for them now and will become more frequent
or severe in the future.
Last year, a survey of producers at the Outdoor Farm Show identified drought, extreme temperatures and flooding
as problems. This is no longer just identified within the scientific community; producers are aware of these risks and
looking for solutions.
There are other problems such as pests and diseases. There are a number of ways that vulnerabilities become
evident. You can count on one hand the number of people looking at the way farm communities are experiencing
vulnerabilities and dealing with them. These risks are real and they are evident. They are likely to become more
problematic in the future if adaptation measures are not taken. You cannot simply deal with the problems as they come
along. If you take that attitude you will see more families leave the land and more farms go bankrupt.
However, there are opportunities for proactive adaptation. Agricultural adaptation is necessary, unless you want to
put up with disasters. There are things that producers can do; there are things that the agri-business sector can do, such
as technological developments and others; there are things that industry organizations can do, particularly information
dissemination, and things that governments can do. Governments have an active role here.
My table 3 gives a very crude characterization of ways you can think about adaptation. For example, there is timing.
You can adapt in an anticipatory manner, or reactively. Do it in advance before the risk hits you, or wait until you
have three crop failures in a row and figure out what to do. Think about temporal scope. If you are hit with a drought
during the year, think about what you can do during that year, as opposed to strategic thinking, which is to think
about what I can do next year, so that I am not so vulnerable. There is form, with management, structural, financial
and legal things. We have just published a scientific article that categorizes adaptation options. These are hypothetical,
for the most part. Sometimes, farmers are doing these things already, but most times, they are things that possibly can
We have identified four categories. The first category is things that can be done in farm production. These are things
that producers can do, such as diversify crops or choose different crop varieties, livestock mixes, mixes of agriculture
and forestry, or land use practices. You could perhaps change the intensity. There are examples of Prairie farmers who
are going to less intensive production systems, in order to reduce their exposure.
There are land use options, changing the crop and livestock mix, or introducing tillage practices that might capture
more moisture and, therefore, make those production systems less susceptible to drought. There are even ways of
altering land topography, so that more moisture might be retained in the ground. There is irrigation, of course,
although there are serious limitations involved in that procedure. Too many studies that have looked at climate change
models that say irrigate to solve everything. The realities are such that, if you could do that, you would already be
doing it. There are limits to supply and access, whether costs make it worthwhile, et cetera. It is, however, a technical
option. There are changes in the timing of operations. Plant a little earlier, or avoid planting earlier because there will
be a dry spell.
These are farm production practices that represent adaptations. These are not necessarily unique to adaptation to
climate. For the most part, they are things that farmers do or might contemplate anyway. However, they might be
encouraged to do them more urgently.
I was out at the Atlantic Soil and Water Conservation Society. Because there is more heat some farmers are
producing grain corn in ways they could not before. However, they are running into moisture problems.
There are many things being tried, but little research out there learning from these lessons in the sector itself. People
are not saying which things worked and which did not. Everyone is making his or her own gambles without the
information being shared. There is a real opportunity to have the sector learn from the experiences of people in the own
region and other regions.
The second category of adaptation is farm financial management. That is not so much changing practices, but
change the way you handle your money. You make a different use of crop insurance, for example. Maybe you take out
more or less, or invest in futures, so that the risk with the price of your commodity is borne by someone else. You could
participate in a different way in income stabilization programs. Not everyone puts his or her money into the NISA or
the GRIP. You can diversify your household income. Again, there is little research on the way in which farmers use
these things or might use them or how it could be done better in the case of climate change.
The third category is technological developments. In the agri-food sector, there seems to be the view that climate
change is not a problem and we will just develop new crops. Yes, there have been wonderful developments in crop
breeding to address all sorts of conditions. That is one of the reasons why many crops are now able to grow in a much
wider range than they did formerly.
However, be careful about looking at this as the panacea for dealing with climate change risks. If crop breeding was
so wonderful, why did we have disastrous droughts across the country in 2001 and 2002? Crop breeding does not
address the variability or extremes. Very few programs in crop breeding are looking toward cultivars or hybrids that
are better suited to these variable conditions. If there is a trial in which there is a particularly dry year, they will throw
that out because it is an anomalous year. They are breeding for other things: for the yield alone, for the oil content or
other qualities. There is little targeted research on drought resistance, for example, or resistance to variable climactic
As far as weather and climate information systems are concerned we have been told to wait. If you want to do that,
go ahead. I think the farmers would laugh if they were told that. If that is your risk management strategy, go for it.
I think you should say, ``Look, there is a good chance there will be a drought.'' Let us look at our climatological
record and what we know about climate change and tell people what the likelihood is of a repeat drought. It is not
certainty. Farmers do not need certainty. They manage risks. They need to know what the likelihood is that these
droughts will be more frequent. If they will be more frequent, they will do something differently.
Ten years ago I answered my first call from a producer concerned with climate change. He was a poultry producer
who lost thousands of birds as a result of a very hot summer and heat that exceeded the cooling capacity of the barn in
which the birds were housed. The farmer lost a lot of money. The farmer wanted to know if the heat would become
that extreme again. He had to know my answer in order to decide to modify his barn. He could not afford to loose that
kind of money again and felt it would be worth his while to invest $100,000 to upgrade the ventilation system in his
barn. Environment Canada provided me with an answer that convinced the farmer to do the upgrade. That is the use
of technology to manage risk.
The fourth category concerns government programs. Crop insurance, for example, is a type of adaptation. Income
stabilization programs represent a type of adaptation within the system. Ethiopia does not have crop insurance or
income stabilization programs. When there is a drought, those people do not resort to making a claim on their crop
insurance; they resort to having to move and hope there is a relief agency giving them food or they die. That is the form
of adaptation you find in Ethiopia.
We have a different form of industry-wide adaptation that is supported by programs like income stabilization and
subsidies. We even had ad hoc drought relief.
These programs represent types of adaptation for the sector as a whole. They also influence the individual behaviour
of farmers that you were asking about earlier.
There is some private insurance, but not much, because there are established programs.
These are really just a hint at some of the adaptation options, because there has been hardly any research on actual
adaptation. We have had oodles of research on the climate itself. We have had oodles of research on gassy exchanges
between plants and the atmosphere. There are all sorts of programs, targeted or otherwise, but there is hardly any
research on how farmers actually deal with these risks and what are the adaptation options, which ones would work,
which ones would not, and in what cases.
Point 4.2 deals with some of the lessons that we have learned from this limited research. We have learned that if you
just adapt in a reactive way, it will be costly. If you wait until you are hit and then try to adapt to that, you will pay.
There are numerous options for proactive adaptation.
Agricultural adaptation is driven more by the vulnerabilities associated with extremes, than with global warming.
Do not use global warming anymore. Talk about climate change, because it captures average temperature and the
Further, farmers do not need certainty. They realize that you will never have certainty on next year's growing season
or the next three years' growing seasons, but they have to make their investments in light of that uncertainty, and they
do so, just as they do not know what the prices or trading policies or demand will be. They make their decisions in light
of those uncertainties, and climate uncertainty is part that of risk management.
These adaptation strategies are particular to locations and to settings. It does not make any sense to say, ``Let us
give us the 15 best adaptations for Canadian agriculture.'' They will vary from place to place, from type of farm to type
of farm, and according to the conditions in those locations.
Adaptation really is a part of the risk management strategies of producers. They do not look at climate in isolation;
they look at climate together with these other things. If somehow we can improve the capacity to deal with these risks,
that will enhance the ability of the agriculture sector and the agriculture-forestry sector to deal with these risks in the
future as well.
There is a need for research on adaptation in the agri-food sector. There are good reasons for promoting adaptation,
and I have heard you people talk about them. However, the direction for that promotion does not exist. We do not
have the knowledge base on adaptation simply because there has been little research on it. We do not know which of
the initiatives would be efficient or effective or would make sense here or there, because there is very little research on
adaptation to climate change or adaptation to climate risks.
I have listed the things that need to be looked at. We need to better understand the current vulnerabilities in the agri-
food sector. We need to have research on the effectiveness of existing management strategies. Some of them work fine;
some of them do not. Let us find out the ones that work and the ones that do not, and why they work and why they do
not. To do that, you need people looking at the strategies that are employed, how well they work and in what
circumstances they work well and why it is that they work. We have hardly any research on that. What are the
potential risks? What are the potential adaptation options? What is the role of organizations or government programs?
You are asking questions about that. I would love to give you the answer. I can probably tell you about three studies,
and that is about all that exists, on those sorts of questions.
There is a need to improve the communication about climate change risks and opportunities. We need to have
research and then the communication of that research. We do not have to start from scratch here. The C-CIARN
network is intended to do that. In our C-CIARN agriculture, we meet with producer organizations quite a lot. They
are on our advisory committee. We have a Web site that producers hook into. We have communications. We learn
things from producers. Tomato producers, for example, are actually choosing certain varieties that help them work
better under these dry conditions.
We give presentations to groups all the time. Two weeks ago, I was in Winnipeg for Grain World that is a major
meeting of organizers and industry representatives. We have fact sheets include the information that we have gathered
concerning adaptation in the agri-food sector. We go to things like farm shows and have a booth and have two-way
We have only one person who covers all of the agriculture across the country. She would be here today but she's out
in Western Canada somewhere, trying to communicate with the farmers. We are under resourced in the extreme but
there is something to build on. We need to connect with research organizations. The partners here are something like
PFRA, the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Association. However, the resources are very limited as well.
There has been some research sponsored under the Climate Change Action Fund that has been shared and
communicated amongst the researchers. For instance, in May, in Victoria, the Canadian Association of Geographers
will have an entire day on adaptation to climate change. There are many other examples of this kind of sharing of
information not only with the research community but also with the stakeholders.
However, the agencies you might think would take a lead, like Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, are conspicuous
in their absence. They have programs on carbon sequestration, gaseous emissions and in-house research programs. To
my knowledge, there is nothing on adaptation. This is partly because climate change is lumped within the
environmental bureau and the research science bureau organizations where they think that these kinds of readings can
be taken on the ground. That is the angle, not what it means to households, to communities, and to the viability of
I have three areas of recommendations. The first is research. There is a desperate need for substantive research in
this area. The agriculture agencies themselves should be playing a role. The effective research actually involves the
participation of government agencies, both federal and provincial, agri-business and producer organizations.
Honourable senators have already heard how, in order to get insights into adaptation, you need to have the research
out on the farms. You need to have people learning from the experience of the producers rather than having it in the
A point was made that we have research stations. They have done wonderful work at looking at how corn is
sensitive to different climactic changes. That is part, but it is only a small part of how producers can deal with climate
risks. We are aware that requires a different research. There are other examples. We need to broaden that.
Second, I believe that there are roles for the agricultural agencies, provincial and federal, for producer organizations
and for the granting councils. I believe they ought to be targeted. If you want to have research that looks at adaptation
to climate change, you will have to target it. If you let the people decide they will continue to do the things for which
they have a vested interest, for which there is already the institutional capacity. You will have lots and lots of work on
gaseous exchanges, carbon cycling, and so forth, because there is strong research capacity for that. Those people will
continue to do that important work, but you will have almost nothing done in the area of adaptation.
My second recommendation is with regard to communications and extension. I have thought about this. It is not
just providing information by vehicles such as this, but actually getting involved somehow in outreach. There needs to
be a way in which this information is communicated and not only one way, not just from the scientific community to
the producers, which is the conventional view, but also learn from the producers such that the scientific community
incorporates that knowledge in their work. C-CIARN is a start for that communication, but there is a great deal more
My third recommendation is with regard to government programs and policies. I was asked the question earlier if
there is need for some new institutional arrangement. There may be, just to give it the profile. However, in practice,
adaptation is undertaken by producers and with government programs that already exist, for example, crop insurance,
and so on.
A high priority should be given to considering climate change risks in existing programs. If you look at the crop
insurance program, of all the differences you are considering, what difference would it make with climate change risks?
Agriculture and Agri-food Canada has this policy framework that will be produced any time. I do not know the degree
to which climate change adaptation is captured within that. It may be omitted all together for all I know. I do not
know the process that they went through in terms of capturing climate change risks in an agriculture policy framework.
It would seem strange to me that there was a Canadian agriculture policy framework that did all the things it was
going to do and did not have explicit consideration of how to manage risks associated with climate change. There is a
target for you right there.
Furthermore, the federal and provincial ministers have worked on this national adaptation framework. To my
knowledge, it is a very crude structure only at the moment, but it also would provide some institutional hooks in order
to promote and push this. There is another starting point for you.
I believe that there are these three areas in which action needs to be taken: In research, communications and in
government policies and programs.
The Chairman: Thank you for a very spirited presentation. I remind honourable senators that Standing Senate
Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology will be taking over this room. We have 25 minutes remaining for
questions. Please keep that in mind as you ask your questions.
Senator LaPierre: I gather that you and the rest of us know very little about what farmers think about climate
change. I do understand that the farmer is integrating climate change into his decision-making. We have to help him.
You have told us that there is neither a system of research nor a system of communication that is systematic.
Mr. Smit: There is a very small amount of research in those areas. If I answered ``no,'' I would say that all the things
that I have done over the last several years mean nothing.
Senator LaPierre: I understand that. I was going to say besides you. There are about five or six of you.
Mr. Smit: No, there are others.
Senator LaPierre: It appears to me that 85 per cent of us live in cities. The vast majority of the people live in the
cities and do not give a damn about the people who live in the rural areas. The people in the rural areas, farmers and
the like, produce a great amount of wealth for us, yet we do not care about them.
Our opinion of climate change is only within the context of the urban reality. Consequently, we have a battle here to
alter the attitude through communication, extension, and so forth, of the urban identities that will, at the end of the
day, be able to force governments to act because that makes up only 15 per cent of our people.
I do not want to inaccurately represent the government. Unless we capture the soul of the people who live in the
cities, with respect to the farmers and the forest industry, the beetles will go all over the place and the rural
communities will disappear. Would you like to address that and illuminate it for us?
Mr. Smit: My belief is that climate change is already bringing risks which, combined with the other stresses on the
rural sector in many parts of Canada, can speed up some of the changes that are going on in rural Canada.
There are many other things that are occurring as well, but changes in the frequency of droughts, for example, do
not help, especially when they are widespread and occur more frequently.
In terms of having the other non-rural parts of the Canadian population become more aware of that and, therefore,
be more amenable to assisting in some way, that is a big question.
I would say one way to tweak the views of people living in urban areas is to remind them that if we have an
agriculture system that remains vulnerable to these increasing dry spells, that has implications not only for the farm
community but also for everyone else in a very simple way.
If there were demands on the federal treasury to help out the farming community, they have already occurred.
Taxpayers will be asked to support them.
That is one way in which there is a connection. There are other ways. For instance, there will be more demands on
the water resources and who has legitimate demands on them.
In those ways you would say there is a need to assist this sector to adapt to these risks that are not brought upon
that sector by itself, just as the Canadian government, on behalf of its people, assists other sectors.
The government on behalf of the citizens, because it is considered to be in the interests of the Canadian economy
and society, influences conditions, positions, policies and programs to help those sectors adapt. You could make an
argument, simply on an equity basis, for doing the same thing for the agricultural sector.
Senator Tkachuk: We talked about the frequency of drought and that it is increasing. There was very little drought
in the 1990s, in the Prairies. Overall, crops were good. We had a pretty good decade. We had a drought last year and a
little the year before, and we had the drought in the mid-1980s.
How much of a change has there been in frequency in the last 50 years compared to the first 50 years in Canada?
Mr. Smit: There has been some but not much work on that. I have a graduate student right now who is working on
trying to statistically assess changes in the frequency of extremes. The reality is that we will not be able to do that
statistically for another hundred years when we have enough years to see whether the frequency has significantly
Senator Tkachuk: We do not know if we are going to have that.
Mr. Smit: We will not be able to do it in a statistical form to say there is a statistically significant increase in the
frequency of years because we have a hundred-year record. Let us say there has been 15 severe years in the last 30, and,
prior to that, there were 10. Is that a statistically significant difference? I am actually a statistician as well. You really
need many more observations before you can talk about that.
In Ontario, for example, in stations that are not close to the lakes, because that has a moderating influence, we have
found some evidence of a gradual increase in temperature, no evidence of any change in the variability, but evidence of
change in the frequency of particularly dry years in the latter part of the last century, compared to the early part of the
However, that is spurious evidence. I would say we have to act on that in the absence of a conclusion. If you wait
until we have conclusive evidence that there is a statistically significant difference in the frequency of droughts before
we take action, that is sort of what we did in the cod stocks: Let us wait until we are sure they are under threat before
we take action. My recollection is that the cod stocks are history. We waited too long. We were afraid to damage the
communities and industries that rely on them. However, they seem to be damaged anyway.
If you will wait until you have evidence of all the conditions that matter to agriculture and associate them with
climate change, it will be a long wait. We simply will not have enough years to say whether or not there is a statistical
difference in these extremes.
All of science says that these risks that are problematic for us will become more serious. We actually may have less
problems with floods.
Senator Tkachuk: This discussion about climate change has addressed Senator LaPierre's point. We should do the
research anyway because we will have droughts. It does not matter much whether they are frequent or less frequent. As
a Western Canadian, I am happy climate change is scaring the urban folks out of their minds, and perhaps we will be
doing more of this.
I asked Mr. Brklacich earlier on regarding the research grants. At the University of Saskatchewan, we have a pretty
darn good extension division that has always been there. My mother used to go there as a member sponsored by the
local co-ops to extension programs at the university.
Is that true of most universities or is it unique to my province or is it scattered? Do most universities have extension
divisions that are well funded and get into the community?
Mr. Smit: My understanding is that the traditional extension function, not only of universities, but also of
agricultural agencies, particularly, provincial ones, has contracted hugely over the last several decades. There is not the
same sort of extension. That is part of it.
The other part is that the climate change issue, when it is being communicated via those extension activities, in the
agricultural sector to date has been almost exclusively about carbon credits and gaseous emissions. There has been
little information exchange via extension or any other in the agri-food sector on what you are talking about here, which
is how you deal with the risk associated with climate.
The climate change issue just came into agriculture in that way. It has persisted as being characterized in that way.
For the most part, even if it is communicated, and it is quite effectively communicated in many places, that is the
orientation that climate change is given. If you go to a farming community and what climate change means to them
they will talk about global warming and wonder about cutting back on gas emission and whether they can make a buck
on carbon credits. Rarely have they made the association between the fact nearly going bankrupt last year may in some
way be connected to climate change and perhaps they should do something about that.
Senator Fairbairn: Our discussion today indicates the difficulty of climate concern in the agriculture area. It very
definitely changes depending where you come from. My colleague was able to say that nothing much went on in the
1990s, and that things were pretty good.
However, in my corner of the world, the last part of the 1990s was hell. It was not bad for just one year; there were a
number of years that culminated with whole lakes drying up and the reservoirs for irrigation being lower than they
have ever been in the history of our area. The only thing that helped the situation was flash flooding last year, which
wiped out the crops in some cases and prevented others from maturing, but did fill the reservoirs to the point that they
are now in better shape.
My point is that did happen in the 1990s in the corner of Alberta and it also happened in the mid-1980s. There was
dreadful drought, with the attendant grasshoppers and that kind of thing.
I am not hysterical about this. However, these issues are now on the public table. It is not just the issue of emissions.
The reason this committee went on the road and undertook the study was to draw attention to the fact that it is not just
the issue of emissions. It is what is happening to our land and to our forests.
You are absolutely correct when you say that this issue of adaptation is not being communicated to the farmers.
I am shocked that despite all the work that our federal and provincial governments and ministries of agriculture
have been doing over the past years, that there is not an establishment or support for a research program addressing
climate change in Canadian agriculture.
Mr. Smit: To my knowledge, there is not.
Senator Fairbairn: The Water Institute of the University of Lethbridge, which is working with the research centre in
Lethbridge, is now one of the biggest research centres in Canada. However, it is stalled because it has not got the
regime of support that will enable it to grow and function. That regime must happen.
When you were outlining the National Adaptation Framework from the ministers of environment and energy, you
wrote that one of the elements of this is to promote and coordinate research on adaptation. I would like you to
comment on ``coordinate.''
Difficulties of many kinds strike many areas of this great country. Whether it is environment or agriculture we must
have a coordinated system with which to deal with these difficulties. It is not good enough just to have a research chair
somewhere without having the mechanism to use that as a coordinating factor in all the areas and regions of this
country. Otherwise, where it is will have influence and where it is not will be out there struggling along without
Mr. Smit: My comment on the lack of specific adaptation research programs in the agriculture institutions does not
mean that there are not activities going on that may have pertinence to adaptation. For example, work on irrigation
and crop development and what you can fit into many of those categories represent types of risk management.
Therefore, there is work on being done on those subjects.
My point is that, to my knowledge, there are no programs specifically targeted to adaptation in the sense that your
committee has been talking about, that is, how producers and the industry deal with these risks associated with climate,
in light of all the other risks they have to deal with. Instead, what we have is: We do this work on crop breeding; surely
that will have relevance to adaptation. We do this work on water management; that will have relevance to adaptation.
Those are true, but none of it is brought together in the agriculture sector to look at adaptation.
With regard to your question about coordination, there are a great variety of applications and issues to be dealt with
across the country and they are place-specific. However, there are many things that can be shared. There are the
common principles: What in principle has worked? Did you even think about this financial strategy or have you even
thought about this change in intensification that these producers in Manitoba have tried? Would that work for you?
What about diversification that these people tried in New Brunswick? Would that work for you?
There are opportunities to look at these principles, and, in particular, to look at the way that adaptation initiatives
might be incorporated into ongoing risk management strategies at both the individual and the government level, and
how adaptation can be incorporated or mainstreamed into government policies.
Other sectors of the Canadian government such as CIDA are way ahead. I have to admit I spent a month in the
South Pacific looking at the way in which those countries are enhancing their adaptation capacity to climate change
risks. CIDA is supportive of those adaptation responses. I also was in Bangladesh and Vietnam. The way in which they
work is not to have an entirely new adaptation program. Instead, they find out the way in which people are dealing
with water, flooding or whatever it is and see what you can do to better deal with the risks, given they are going to
change with climate change. In fact, they are changing now. Climate change then becomes part and parcel of their
ongoing risk management strategies. It would seem to be easy to do it in agriculture.
Senator Fairbairn: Once again, it is a question reinventing the wheel. I get the sense from our hearings that there is
much out there, but there is not a mechanism to bring it together and factor it into the adaptation of the various
regions of our country. Until we do that, we are not building up any kind of a defence against the issues that we have
talked about today.
I thank you very much for bringing your expertise and your obvious sensitivity and caring to this community.
Senator Day: I would like your comment on an article from today's Ottawa Citizen:
In an effort to meet the requirements of Kyoto Protocol, federal agricultural scientists in Alberta will this summer
measure methane levels caused by cattle burping. Methane is one of three major greenhouse gases believed
responsible for climate change. The scientists are measuring burp levels with high-tech laser devices, as well as
testing feed types to see which foods ferment less in cows bellies, thereby reducing burp levels.
Is that mitigation or adaptation?
Mr. Smit: That is mitigation, looking at the contribution from the agriculture sector of gases that change in their
concentration and hence moderate the climate. That is important work. We need to know where the gas comes from,
burping and the other end as well. That will be documented I am sure. The beneficiary of that research really is the
globe because we will understand where the gases come from and what impact they have.
There is a pressing need now to have the beneficiaries be the farmers and producers in Canada who are already
subject to risks associated with climate and are likely to be so in the future. Actually measuring the gas out of the front
or back end of cows will not be of great assistance in the viability of farming operations over the next five years but it
may be in the longer term. We need programs announced with the same fanfare and equivalent budgets in assessing the
way producers and the agriculture sector deal with climate-related risks, both current risks and how the risks change
with climate change.
Senator LaPierre: What is the difference in the burping at the two ends that makes it worthy to be printed in the
Ottawa Citizen? If you arrive with another program like you the one have described, it will not get into the Ottawa
Senator Day: I would like to look at your three recommendations: research, communications, and programs and
policies. I was surprised there was no discussion of the role of the private sector in this subject. Please comment on that.
From the research point of view, if there is an economic factor there, the private sector will develop technology that
will be communicated to the farmers because they obviously want to get that technology out.
Regarding programs and policies, is there a program that allows researchers in universities and in think-tank areas
to take the technology they have been working on and move it into the private sector with proper intellectual
properties rights, patent rights, plant-breeders' rights, that kind of thing?
Is there no area that we have talked about that fits all your requirements?
Mr. Smit: I bring your attention to both my recommendations on research and communication; I have included
agri-business in there quite explicitly and deliberately because agri-business plays a fundamental role in research. In
some particular areas, areas for which they get a return, agri-business makes a contribution. In a lot of those aspects of
risk management, there is not really a major private sector engagement. In some, there is.
Crop development is one example. Crop breeding has been directed for the most part, in recent years, to what sort
of attributes? One study looked at the foci of crop breeding. It found that breeding for resilience to climatic extremes
was way down the list. Maybe there are no big bucks there; perhaps that is true.
I agree that research should involve it and the same with communication. In fact, in the C-CIARN agricultural
network, there is a modest initiative to try to disseminate the information we have. Agri-business partners are involved
as we try to engage them to the extent it is possible for exactly the reasons you point out.
Senator Day: Given the fact that adaptation, from a farmers' point of view, is often not a fundamental change, is the
private sector better able to help with the small changes?
Should we leave the public research, university research and long-term research to deal with the directed, yes, but
more long-term research?
Mr. Smit: Probably there is something to that. The private sector needs to see a return more quickly for the most
part. A lot of very forward-looking initiatives are undertaken in the private sector. When the benefits are readily
accruable to the industry, there is more of an interest; less so when the benefit goes more to society and the community
On your point of adaptation in small things rather than big things, I think it can be both. At the Grain World
Conference in Winnipeg two weeks ago, we organized a panel of producers from across the country that explained how
they were dealing with these risks. The risks ranged from small things, like changing the rotation for a livestock
operation in order to make them less vulnerable to the dry spells, to completely changing their operation from a
specialized grain operation to a forage-based feed operation. So it was a complete change in the whole enterprise
structure. To me, they had less input costs; they were more diversified. It was not driven only by the risks associated
with climate but they were certainly part of it. Adaptation can be done in little bits and pieces; it can also mean a
fundamental change in enterprises.
Senator Day: When you need that larger change, there normally must be some government programs to help the
farmer change or to help a forest industry change to something fundamentally different. It will take an input of some
Mr. Smit: Programs, even though they are not intentionally meant to encourage or discourage adaptation, will often
do so. A subsidy for a particular crop, not applied to others, provides incentive to grow that crop, rather than to
diversify. Some programs may inadvertently encourage or discourage adaptation.
The Deputy Chairman: On behalf of all senators, thank you, witnesses. You can tell by the level and intensity of the
questions that your presentations were well received.
The committee adjourned.