Effect of Variations in Climate on Agriculture in Northern Norway

by Alex Nuffer

The impact of climate change on agriculture varies among geographic areas largely because of soil properties, local climate, local and regional markets, management strategies, and agricultural tradition. In northern Norway, climate research has concluded that the main changes in regional climate include increasing temperatures, precipitation, and frequency of extreme weather events. These changes introduce new beneficial opportunities for agriculture through the introduction of new crops, increase of yield, and expansion of cultivation areas. Uleberg, Hanssen-Baur, van Oort, and Dalmanndsdottir (2013) assessed the impact of climate change on agriculture in six municipalities in northern Norway on plant production and animal husbandry, as well as presented possible adaptive strategies to harness the potential benefits from climate change. The study was based on downscaled climate projections for the different municipalities, along with interviews from farmers, key informants, and municipal administrators. The municipalities spanned across different climatic zones of Norway and included coastal, interior, Sub-Arctic, and Arctic. The authors discovered that the most influential challenges from variations in climate included unstable winters, increase of autumn precipitation, and increase in pathogens and weeds. Although these challenges pose threats to agriculture, the extension of the short growth season and higher growth temperatures bring forth new agricultural opportunities that could potentially be beneficial, as long as adaptation strategies tailor to these changes.

Uleberg and colleagues interviewed farmers from each municipality on their adaptive ability and capacity to the changes in climate. In addition, farmers representing the various forms of agriculture in northern Norway, representatives from local agricultural authorities and regional agricultural consultant services partook in group interviews regarding the downscaled climatic variables.

All municipalities showed a significant increase in temperature, especially during winter. Temperature projections were used to calculate the change in growing season in each municipality, which was projected to increase 1–4 weeks. Precipitation scenarios predicted an increase in precipitation for every season in all municipalities. The increase in temperature will have an effect on the length of the snow cover season, which was predicted to be reduced by 1–3 months.

The lengthening of the growth season and increase in temperature allows for increase in harvests and growth potential. The climate projection indicated that there would be the greatest increase of temperature in autumn for northern Norway. Although the climate change could be beneficial for the farmers, there are potential risks that the farmers must take into account in order to sustain an efficient crop yield. These risks include an earlier commencement of spring, which will affect sowing dates, and changing of weather conditions during the winter, which will affect soil conditions. In addition, increased temperatures lead to more favorable conditions for weeds, pests, and disease. Adaptive strategies that accommodate these risks include careful selection of crop species and cultivars, selection of sowing time, fertilization time and level, and pesticide and herbicide use. Other long-period solutions involve breeding new cultivars of perennial plants adapted to the changing winter conditions

The increase of precipitation is often portrayed as beneficial for crop production; however, there are problems that could occur with harvesting and other farm operations. Precipitation is already quite high in Norway; therefore an increase in precipitation could cause soils to become saturated, drowning the crops. Farmers can avoid these issues by adopting more efficient drainage systems, which are currently not dimensioned for future precipitation rates.

There is an indirect effect on livestock stress and fitness level from the variations in climate in northern Norway. Snow and precipitation are the most important factors, which have a direct impact on the vegetation. Changes in snow cover, precipitation, and timing of the growing season has potential consequences for the availability and quality of forage throughout the season.

Assessing the risks of climate projections is important to crop yield, livestock health, and farmers’ livelihoods. In general, farmers in northern Norway are well suited to adopt strategies that tailor to the extension of the growth season, unstable winters, increased autumn precipitation, and more weeds and diseases, however, it will still require focus to find the most efficient and beneficial practices taking into account social, economic, and political factors.

Uleberg, E., Hanssen-Baur, I., van Oort, B., Dalmannsdottir, S., 2013. Impact of climate change on agriculture in Northern Norway and potential strategies for adaptation. Climatic Change 122, 27–39 http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-013-0983-1

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