Okanagan plans for climate change

Agriculture in British Columbia’s Okanagan region is expected to see an increase in hotter, drier summers, more insect and disease pressures, and more extreme weather events due to the effects of climate change.

A new adaptation plan outlines the priority impact areas and a series of strategies to strengthen the resilience of the Okanagan agriculture sector in a changing climate.

The British Columbia Agriculture and Food Climate Action Initiative (CAI) brought agricultural producers together with local governments and provincial agencies to identify collaborative solutions and actions to adapt to the challenges.

“Agricultural producers in the Okanagan need to be aware of the potential impacts of climate change and start planning for the future,” says Erin Carlson, who represents the B.C. Cherry Association on the climate adaptation advisory committee.

“This strategy is an important starting point. It has brought focus to the discussion and resources necessary to start moving plans into action.”

The implementation of priority actions will be supported by a $300,000 investment from the federal and provincial governments through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative covering a wide array of agricultural programs. Climate adaptation programming is part of the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture’s climate change adaptation initiative in the agriculture sector. These investments help achieve the federal government’s goal to encourage job creation and innovation in the agriculture sector.

Climate models show a strong warming trend for the Okanagan, particularly in the summer. Precipitation is expected to decrease in the summer, and increase in the winter, with a marked decrease in the amount falling as snow. Extreme weather events are also expected to become more frequent and more severe. Changes to temperature and precipitation patterns will affect river systems, resulting in less predictability and increased variability in the timing and volume of water flows. Warmer temperatures and higher rates of evapotranspiration will increase demand for irrigation and put pressure on water storage.

“For growers, these changes could have a significant impact on crop yields and quality, as well as increasing the cost of securing the water needed for production,” says Carlson. “We need to be prepared to manage the risks of shifting weather patterns and extreme weather events, as they have the potential to be devastating for the fruit crops that our region is known for.”

The Okanagan Regional Adaptation Strategies report identifies four priority areas:

  • Warmer and drier summer conditions — strategies and actions have been identified to support the sector to prepare for and respond to drought conditions, as well as maximizing conservation and efficiency in agricultural water management.
  • Changes to pest populations (insects, diseases, weeds and invasive species) — strategies and actions have been identified to support integrated and cross-sector approaches to pest monitoring and management, as well as enhancing informational resources about pests and climate change.
  • Increase in extreme precipitation events — strategies and actions have been identified to improve knowledge transfer and resources to address runoff and erosion, and to enhance riparian areas.
  • Increasing wildfire risk — strategies and actions have been identified to enhance tools and resources for wildfire preparedness and mitigation.

As the action plan is implemented, project results will be shared with the intent of bringing new information, resources, tools and practices into use across the province.

Tamara Leigh is communications co-ordinator for the B.C. Agriculture and Food Climate Action Initiative.

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