Warmer climate may hike insect, disease risks

Warmer winters or extreme events such as floods and drought could allow bacteria and fungi to thrive and spread

Got the crawling skin feeling? We may all have to get used to it.

Ticks, parasites, fungi and other pests could become more common in Western Canada, if climate change forecasts bear out.

Last year went into the record books as the warmest year ever, and now NASA’s mid-year climate analysis for 2016 says it has been the warmest since weather records began in 1880. The planet has been 1.3 C warmer so far this year.

This change can affect ecosystems and the ability of pests to thrive and spread, said Kim Ominski of the faculty of agriculture and food science at the University of Manitoba.

“It may require increased vigilance on our part and maybe new vaccination strategies,” she said at the Canadian beef industry conference held in Calgary Aug. 9-11.

Weeds, fungi, insects and bacteria may be able to overwinter and reproduce faster during warmer summers.

Anaplasmosis, which affects the red blood cells of ruminants, is spread by a bacteria via ticks. The American dog tick seems to be spreading into new territory, while the Rocky Mountain tick has stayed in its environment.

However, if these species spread farther, there could be a greater risk of anaplasmosis in new regions of the country.

Anthrax is caused by bacteria, and spores can exist in the soil for up to 200 years. Outbreaks occur when the spores have risen to the surface during extreme events like flood or drought.

Liver flukes have increased in wetter conditions. Snails carry the problem and are transferred from the pasture to the animal. They can cause a black tracking appearance in the liver and the organ is condemned.

A recently published paper from Felicia Wu of Michigan State University also found climate change induced mycotoxins could in-crease and pose an economic risk to crops.

Western Canadians have learned to manage through climate variability and extreme events.

“That vast variability really masks those specific trends that we see,” she said.

Prairie winters have warmed by 2 to 2.5 C since 1950. In the future, there could be less snow and a longer frost-free period from spring to autumn.

Precipitation is highly variable across the Prairies. Many areas of Western Canada are often dry but can also experience major floods over large agriculture areas.

The annual temperature increase is likely to be 1 to 4 C. That could make it possible to grow more warm weather crops, but there may also be less water.

Barley and canola will likely remain popular, she said, but farmers could consider planting more soybeans, corn, millet and sorghum.

On the beef side, Ominski said there could be an increase in winter grazing across the West.

Forage crops may yield more and livestock will not need as much feed for energy because the winters would not be as cold.

Weather extremes with more freeze-thaw cycles, snow at unexpected times or extreme cold at calving or weaning could affect vulnerable animals.

If summers are warmer, heat stress and decreased productivity could be more common. Water supplies could be affected during hot, dry periods when animals need more to drink.

Even if there is no change in precipitation, water deficits would likely occur because of increased evapo-transpiration leading to greater water limitations. More effort should be directed at capturing and storing water during periods of excess, she said.

The processing and transportation sectors could face difficulties. The processing industry needs lots of water and could face challenges during restrictions.

More innovative strategies to reduce energy and water use should be explored, said Ominski.

Freeze-thaw periods and flooding are hard on roads. Short-term interruptions are costly for the transportation sector and food distributors who operate on tight delivery schedules, she said.

Canada is mostly insulated from big climatic effects that may be seen in other parts of the world but there is a caveat.

“We are going to see an increase in extreme weather related events,” Ominski said.

Insurance claims due to catastrophic weather damage and crop insurance claims are going up across most of Western Canada. The result is higher premiums.

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