Study: Farming in far northern Canada could be possible

According to a new study, farming in the cold of northern Canada may become a possibility in the future.

The huge boreal forest belt of northern Canada has been left largely untouched by agriculture, but a recently released study suggests that with a warming climate, there is a potential for food production in the Far North.

A department at the University of Guelph has concluded that climate change should transform some parts of northern Canada into a new farming frontier. The researches note that southern forms of agricultural production to a northern environment also has the potential to do more harm than good.

Dr. Evan Fraser is the director of the Arrell Food Institute and a co-author on the study. He explains that northern Canada was one of the very first environments to show the effects of a warming climate, and its effect there have been studied longer than many other regions. Dr. Fraser says that ongoing warmer temperatures can relate to a longer growing season for a few specific crops that could be grown in the future.

“As our growing season in the north increases, what we determined was that a huge amount of northern Canada potentially becomes suitable for farming where currently no farming exists,” Dr. Fraser said. “Projections that we have suggest there will be enough degree-days... and enough moisture to support wheat production... By 2080 or so, probably we’ll have temperatures and moisture conditions that could support potatoes, wheat, soybeans.”

Much of the past research concluded that farming the boreal forest belt of the Far North would be futile. Dr. Fraser argues that there are areas of topsoil, albeit a typically thin layer. The Arrell Food Institute’s study is careful to show both the pros and cons of farming the Far North. Yes, a warming climate does offer potential to northern regions, but there are also potential pitfalls.

“We have to realize the boreal forest and the peat soils up north are some of the largest carbon reservoirs on the plant,” Dr. Fraser said. “So, if we start imagining a scenario where we start cutting those trees down and plowing those fields then we will have the potential of releasing a lot of carbon into the atmosphere, and a significant runoff happening into the Arctic Ocean.”