By Tyler Hamilton
28 February 2016
(The Star) – The wind was unusually strong, and it swept across Saskatchewan farmland without warning or mercy to canola farmers who had just cut and laid out their crops to dry.
Kim Keller, 31, remembers the mid-September day clearly. It was 2012, her first year working back on the family’s 4,900-hectare grain farm in Gronlid, a hamlet about 200 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon. An auto insurance adjuster for the previous six years, Keller realized after a decade away that the farm is where she yearned to be.
The windstorm was fast, furious and persistent. “We watched as all our hard work was literally blown away,” Keller said. “I wondered to myself, what did I just do? I had quit a stable job, and in my first year of farming my crop was literally gone. It had a massive impact on our livelihood.”
The stress led to anxiety and despair that Keller has learned is all too common — and poorly understood — in farming communities. She worries that climate change is amplifying mental distress as farmers struggle with floods, unseasonable frosts, with floods and windstorms scientists say are becoming more frequent and severe.
Planting crops year to year is becoming a “roll of the dice,” said Keller, a third-generation farmer.
“The weather we tend to experience lately seems to be at one extreme or the other — drought or flooding, -40 C or 35 C. These unpredictable and extreme weather patterns add to all the other stressors farmers experience and deal with.”
When extreme weather hits, such as the droughts of 2001 and 2002 and floods in 2010 and 2011, it can reduce crop yields by as much as 50 per cent, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
A report published in January by researchers at the University of British Columbia and McGill University found that between 1964 and 2007 crop damage from extreme weather, mostly drought, reduced production in Canada, the United States and Australia by an average of 20 per cent — double the global average.
Co-author Navin Ramankutty, a professor of global food security at UBC, said the data cautiously suggests that extreme events are occurring more frequently over time. More certain, he added, is “more recent events have had a greater impact.”
A warming climate with more volatile weather can also weaken crops, making them more vulnerable to weeds, insects and disease.
Farmers already have it tough.
The World Health Organization has long identified farming as having among the highest rates of occupation-related depression and suicide, particularly during times of economic hardship. Climate change is expected to amplify that stress, taking a toll around the world. [more]