Barley may thrive under climate change

Climate change could result in warmer and wetter conditions in northern Alberta and warmer and drier in the south

A warming climate could be good news for Alberta’s barley industry.

University of Alberta researchers have embarked on a ongoing project to study adaptive measures and opportunities for water use for agriculture, petroleum and other sectors in the province.

Watershed scientist Monireh Faramarzi and others have combined hydrology and climate models to assess water supplies now and in the future for all sectors, including crop production.

The research team created 48 models and scenarios.

“According to these results, we found we are going to have increased precipitation based on the average of the models,” she said at the Western Barley Growers Association annual meeting in Calgary March 7-8.

The research team evaluated precipitation patterns, evaporation, snowfall, snow melt, blue water and green water throughout the province. Blue water is surface and groundwater that can be extracted, while green water is stored in the soil.

The conclusion is northern Alberta can expect warmer and wetter conditions while the south is likely to be warmer and drier in the long term.

Rain-fed barley crops in northern Alberta will experience higher yields while irrigated crops in the south should remain about the same. However both are likely to require less water for production because of increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

Crops could demand 10 to 60 percent less water in the new environment.

“Higher carbon dioxide concentration boosts crop yield in two ways,” she said.

“It will increase the rate of photosynthesis, which spurs growth and reduces the amount of water lost through evapotranspiration.”

Water demand and consumption affects crop yield and production from germination to harvest stage, but other factors also affect crop yield, such as soil nutrients, tillage, irrigation, date of planting and harvesting. Water, temperature, solar radiation, air humidity, carbon dioxide and soil type also affect crop growth.

“We cannot look just at water,” she said.

“These are interacting components that contribute to crop production.”

The study is based on more carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere because of human activities, but other influences can affect climate and this needs more work, she said.

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