Climate Change Could Open Huge New Tracts of Farmland: Study

It would come at an environmental cost, but climate change could open up vast new swathes of farmland across the globe - including Canada’s north, according to new University of Guelph research.

The researchers found the world’s agricultural land could expand by as much as 30% from current levels by 2060, with longer growing seasons potentially leading to the cultivation of crops such as wheat and potatoes across the northern reaches of most Canadian provinces, along with much of the Northwest Territories and Yukon.  Corn and soy could also be grown farther northward, although less extensively, it added.

The study combined projections for temperature and precipitation from 17 global climate models with agricultural models that predict suitability for growing 12 globally important food crops.

Globally, the study found prospective new croplands are expected to be most extensive in northern boreal regions. More than half of that landmass lies in Canada (4.2 million square kilometres) and Russia (4.3 million square kilometres). That compares to the approximately 650,000 square kilometres that are now actively farmed in Canada.

Along with generating more food for an increasingly hungry planet, growing food in new areas may promote economic development, reducing poverty and food insecurity in the Canadian north, the researchers said.

The world will need to produce an estimated 70% more food by 2050 to sustain a human population of about 9 billion. Population estimates for the end of the century range from about 7 billion people to more than 16 billion.

However, the researchers also warned this new “farming frontier” would also pose significant environmental threats, including increased carbon emissions.

“As current lands become less suitable, there’s going to be pressure to develop new frontiers and that’s going to come with a host of major environmental consequences like releasing unprecedented amounts of carbon in the atmosphere, which then fuels additional climate change,” said Lee Hannah, senior climate change scientist, Conservation International, and lead author of the paper.

Source: DePutter Publishing Ltd.

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