Vulnerability and adaptation to climate risks in Ontario agriculture

  • Susanna Reid
  • Barry Smit
  • Wayne Caldwell
  • Suzanne Belliveau
Original Paper


A vulnerability approach to climate change adaptation research is employed to explore prospects of agricultural adaptation to climatic variability and change. The methodological approach focuses on the system of concern, in this case, farms in Perth County, Ontario. Twenty-five interviews and four focus groups with farmers were used to identify climate risks on farms, and to document farmers’ responses to conditions and risks associated with climate and weather. The information collected describes a complex decision-making environment, with many forces both external and internal to the farm operation influencing management decisions. Within this environment, climate and weather are consistently referred to as a significant force influencing both farm operations and management decisions. Farmers have, however, developed a wide-range of anticipatory and reactive management strategies to manage climate risks. While these have potential to address future climate-related risks and opportunities, there are limits to adaptation, and an increase in the frequency of extreme events may exceed their adaptive capacities. Farmers are also generally unaware and/or unconcerned about future climate change, which could constrain opportunities to adopt long-term climate change adaptations.


Adaptive capacity Agricultural adaptation Climate change Climate risk Exposure Farmers Perception of climate Vulnerability 



This research was sponsored by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, the Climate Change Action Fund (Natural Resources Canada), the Meteorological Service of Canada, and the Canada Research Chairs program. We thank Robert McLeman and Marie Puddister, and are especially grateful to the many Perth County farmers who participated in this research.


  1. Adamson S (2002) Long-term (100 years) trends, variations and extremes for pertinent agro-climatic variables across Southern Ontario, M.Sc. dissertation. Department of Geography, University of Guelph, Guelph, ONGoogle Scholar
  2. Alexandrov VA, Hoogenboom G (2000) Vulnerability and adaptation assessments of agriculturalcrops under climate change in the Southeastern USA. Theor Appl Climatol 67:45–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Antle JM, Capalbo SM, Hewitt J (2004) Adaptation, spatial heterogeneity and the vulnerability of agricultural systems to climate change and CO2 fertilization: an integrated assessment approach. Climatic Change 64:289–315CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Arthur LM (1988) The implications of climate change for agriculture in the prairie provinces. Climate Change Digest 88:1–13Google Scholar
  5. Andresen J, Alagarswamy G, Stead D, Cheng H, Sea B (2000) Agriculture. In: Sousounis PJ, Bisanz JM (eds), Preparing for a changing climate: The potential consequences of climate variability and change in the Great Lakes region. Great Lakes Regional Assessment, University of Michigan Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences Department, Ann Arbor, MI, pp 69–80Google Scholar
  6. Bedford T, Burgess J (2001) The focus group experience. In: Limb M, Dwyer C (eds), Qualitative methodologies for geographers: issues and debates. Arnold, London, pp 121–135Google Scholar
  7. Belanger G, Rochette P, Castonguay Y, Bootsma A, Mongrain D, Ryan DAJ (2002) Climate change and winter survival of perennial forage crops in Eastern Canada. Agro J 94:1120–1130CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Belliveau S, Smit B, Bradshaw B (2006) Multiple exposures and dynamic vulnerability: evidence from the grape and wine industry in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada. Global Environmental Change (in press)Google Scholar
  9. Brklacich M, Smit B (1992) Implications of changes in climatic averages and variability on food production opportunities in Ontario, Canada. Climatic Change 20:1–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brklacich M, Stewart RB (1995) Impacts of climate change on wheat yields in the Canadian Prairies. In: Rosenzwieg C (ed) Climate change and agriculture: analysis of potential international impacts, special publication No. 59, American Society of Agronomy, Madison, WI, pp 147–162Google Scholar
  11. Brklacich M, McNabb D, Bryant C, Dumanski J (1997) Adaptability of agricultural systems to global climate change: A Renfrew County, Ontario, Canada pilot study. In: Ilbery B, Chiotti Q, Rickard T (eds) Agricultural restructuring and sustainability: a geographical perspective, CAB International, Wallingford, pp 212–256Google Scholar
  12. Brklacich M, Bryant C, Veenhof B, Beauchesne A (1998) Implications of global climatic change for Canadian agriculture: a review and appraisal of research from 1984 to 1997, in Environment Canada (eds) Volume VII of the Canada Country Study: Climate Impacts and Adaptation, Downsview, Ontario, Environment CanadaGoogle Scholar
  13. Bryant CR, Smit B, Brklacich M, Johnston TR, Smithers J, Chiotti Q, Singh B (2000) Adaptation in Canadian agriculture to climatic variability and change. Climatic Change 45:181–201CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Burton I (1997) Vulnerability and adaptive response in the context of climate and climate change. Climatic Change 36:185–196CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Burton I, Huq S, Lim B, Pilifosova O, Schipper EL (2002) From impacts assessment to adaptation priorities: the shaping of adaptation policy. Climate Policy 2:145–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Burton I, Lim B (2005) Achieving adequate adaptation in agriculture. Climatic Change 70:191–200CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Carter TR, Parry ML, Harasawa H, Nishioka S (1994) IPCC technical guidelines for assessing climate change impacts and adaptations. University College and Center for Global Environmental Research, LondonGoogle Scholar
  18. Charron D, Waltner-Toews D, Maarouf A, Stalker M (2003) A synopsis of the known and potential diseases and parasites of humans and animals associated with climate change in Ontario. In: Griefenhagen S, Nolan T (eds) A synopsis of the known and potential diseases and parasites associated with climate change. Forest Research Information Paper No. 154. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Toronto, pp 7–89Google Scholar
  19. Chiotti Q, Johnston T (1995) Extending the boundaries of climate change research: a discussion of agriculture. J Rural Studies 11:335–350CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Chiotti Q, Johnston TR, Smit B, Ebel B (1997) Agricultural response to climate change: a preliminary investigation of farm-level adaptation in Southern Alberta. In: Ilbery B, Chiotti Q, Rickard T (eds) Agricultural restructuring and sustainability: a geographical perspective. CAB International, WallingfordGoogle Scholar
  21. Cummings H and Associates (2000) The economic impacts of agriculture on the economy of Perth County, Guelph, ON, Cummings and Associates, Report submitted to Perth County Federation of Agriculture, March, 2000. Retrieved October 8, 2001, from Google Scholar
  22. de Jong R, Bootsma A, Huffman T, Roloff G (1999) Crop yield variability under climate change and adaptive crop management scenarios. Final project report submitted to the Climate Change Action Fund, Government of CanadaGoogle Scholar
  23. Delcourt G, van Kooten G (1995) How resilient is grain production to climatic change? Sustainable agriculture in a dryland cropping region of western Canada. J Sustain Agric 5:37–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. DesJarlais C, Bourque A, Décoste R, Demers C, Deschamps P, Lam K (eds) (2004) Adapting to climate change. Consortium Ouranos Montréal, QCGoogle Scholar
  25. Dolan AH, Smit B, Skinner MW, Bradshaw B, Bryant CR (2001) Adaptation to climate change in agriculture: evaluation of options. Department of Geography, University of Guelph. Guelph, ONGoogle Scholar
  26. Downing TE, Ringius L, Hulme M, Waughray D (1997) Adapting to climate change in Africa. Mitig Adapt Strat Glob Change 2:19–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Easterling WE, Crosson PR, Rosenberg NJ, McKenney MS, Katz LA, Lemon KM (1993) Agricultural impacts of and response to climate change in the Missouri-Iowa-Nebraska-Kansas (MINK) region. Climatic Change 24:23–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Easterling WE, Mearns LO, Hays CJ, Marx D (2001) Comparison of agricultural impacts of climate change calculated from high and lowresolution climate change scenarios: Part I. Accounting for adaptation and CO2 direct effects. Climatic Change 51:173–197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Easterling WE, Chhetri N, Niu X (2003) Improving the realism of modeling agronomic adaptation to climate change: simulating technological substitution. Climatic Change 60:149–173CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. El Maayar M, Singh B, Andre P, Bryant CR, Thouez JP (1997) The effects of climatic change and CO² fertilization on agriculture in Quebec. Agric For Meteorol 85:293–208CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. El-Shaer HM, Rosenzweig C, Iglesias A, Eid MH, Hillel D (1997) Impact of climate change on possible scenarios for Egyptian agriculture in the future. Mitig Adapt Strat Glob Change 1:233–250CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Environment Canada Weather Office (2005) Canadian climate norms, 1971–2000, retrieved November 17, 2005, from Scholar
  33. Fischer G, Frohberg K, Parry ML, Rosenzweig C (1995) Climate change and world food supply, demand, and trade. In: Rosenzweig C (ed) Climate change and agriculture: analysis of potential international impacts. Special Publication No. 59, American Society of Agronomy, Madison WI, pp 341–379 Google Scholar
  34. Flick U (1998) An introduction to qualitative research. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CAGoogle Scholar
  35. Ford JD, Smit B (2004) A framework for assessing the vulnerability of communities in the Canadian Arctic to risks associated with climate change. Arctic 57:389–400Google Scholar
  36. Hewitt K (1997) Regions at risk: a geographical introduction to disasters. Wesley Longman, Essex, AddisonGoogle Scholar
  37. Holloway L, Ilbery B (1997) Global warming and navy beans: decision making by farmers and food companies in the U.K. J Rural Studies 13:343–355CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ilbery B (1985) Agricultural geography. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  39. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2001a) Summary for policymakers: A report of Working Group 1 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  40. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2001b) Summary for policymakers: A report of Working Group 11 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  41. Kandlikar M, Risbey J (2000) Agricultural impacts of climate change: if adaptation is the answer, what is the question? Climatic Change 45:529–539CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kasperson J, Kasperson R, Dow K (2001) Vulnerability, equity and global environmental change. In: Kasperson JX, Kasperson RE (eds) Global environmental risk. Earthscan Publications Ltd, London, pp 247–272Google Scholar
  43. Kasperson JX, Kasperson RE (2005) The social contours of risk, vol 1: Publics, Risk Communication & the Social Amplification of Risk. Earthscan, London, UKGoogle Scholar
  44. Kelly PM, Adger WN (2000) Theory and practice in assessing vulnerability to climate change and facilitating adaptation. Climatic Change 47:325–352CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kling G, Hayhoe L, Johnson J, Magnuson S, Polasky S, Robinson B, Shuter M, Wander D, Wuebbles D, Zak D (2003) Confronting climate change in the Great Lakes region. Report of the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Ecological Society of America Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  46. Koshida G, Avis W (eds) (1998) The Canada country study: Climate impacts and adaptation, vol VII: National sectoral change. Environment Canada, Environmental Adaptation Research Group Downsview, ONGoogle Scholar
  47. Kurukulasuriya P, Rosenthal S (2003) Climate change and agriculture: a review of impacts and adaptations. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  48. Leary N (1999) A framework for benefit-cost analysis of adaptation to climate change and climate variability. Mitig Adapt Strat Glob Change 4:307–318CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Lemmen D, Warren F (2002) Climate change impacts and adaptation: a Canadian perspective. Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Directorate, Natural Resources Canada, Ottawa, ONGoogle Scholar
  50. Liu H, Li X, Fischer G, Sun L (2004) Study on the impacts of climate change on China’s agriculture. Climatic Change 65:125–148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. McGinn SM, Toure A, Akinremi OO, Major DJ, Barr AG (1999) Agroclimate and crop response to climate change in Alberta, Canada. Outlook Agric 28:19–28Google Scholar
  52. Mendelsohn R (2000) Efficient adaptation to climate change. Climatic Change 45:583–600CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Motha RP, Baier W (2005) Impacts of present and future climate change and climate variability on agriculture in the temperate regions: North America. Climatic Change 70:137–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Neilsen D, Smith S, Koch W, Hall J, Parchomchuk P (2002) Impact of climate change on crop water demand and crop suitability in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. Final report submitted to the Climate Change Action Fund, Government of CanadaGoogle Scholar
  55. Nyirfa WN, Harron B (2002) Assessment of climate change on the agricultural resources of the Canadian Prairies. Final report to the Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative of PARC project # QS-3Google Scholar
  56. O’Brien KL, Leichenko RM (2000) Double exposure: assessing the impacts of climate change within the context of economic globalization. Global Environ Change 10:221–232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Palys T (1997) Research decisions: quantitative and qualitative perspectives, 2nd edn. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, TorontoGoogle Scholar
  58. Parry ML, Rosenzweig C, Iglesias A, Livermore M, Fischer G (2004) Effects of climate change on global food production under SRES emissions and socio-economic scenarios. Global Environ Change 14:53–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Perth County (2003) Perth County statistics, Retrieved September 9, (2003) from Google Scholar
  60. Pittock AB, Jones RN (2000) Adaptation to what and why? Environ Monitor Assess 61:9–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Reilly J, Tubiello F, McCarl B, Alber D, Darwin R, Fuglie K, Hollinger S, Izaurrald C, Jagtap S, Jones J, Mearns L, Ojima D, Paul E, Paustian K, Riha S, Rosenberg N, Rosenzweig C (2003) US agriculture and climate change: new results. Climatic Change 57:43–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Reinsborough M (2003) A Ricardian model of climate change in Canada. Can J Econ 3:21–40Google Scholar
  63. Risbey J, Kandlikar M, Dowlatabadi H, Graetz D (1999) Scale, context, and decision making in agricultural adaptation to climate variability and change. Mitig Adapt Strat Glob Change 4:137–165CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Rogers EM, Shoemaker FF (1971) Communication of innovations. Collier MacMillan Publishers, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  65. Rosenzweig C, Parry ML (1994) Potential impacts of climate change on world food supply. Nature 367:133–138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Schneider SH, Easterling WE, Mearns LO (2000) Adaptation: sensitivity to natural variability, agent assumption and dynamic climate changes. Climatic Change 45:203–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Singh B, Stewart RB (1991) Potential impacts of a CO2 induced climate change using the GISS scenario on agriculture in Quebec, Canada. Agric, Ecosyst Environ 35:327–347CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Singh B, El Maayar M, Andre P, Bryant CR, Thouez JP (1998) Impacts of a GHG-induced climate change on crop yields: effects of acceleration in maturation, moisture stress and optimal temperature. Climatic Change 38:51–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Sivakumar MVK, Das HP, Brunini O (2005) Impacts of present and future climate variability and change on agriculture and forestry in the arid and semi-arid tropics. Climatic Change 70:31–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Smit B, Brklacich M, Stewart RB, McBride R, Brown M, Bond D (1989) Sensitivity of crop yields and land resource potential to climatic change in Ontario. Climatic Change 14:153–174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Smit B, McNabb D, Smithers J (1996) Agricultural adaptation to climatic variation. Climatic Change 33:7–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Smit B, Burton I, Klein RJT, Street R (1999) The science of adaptation: a framework for assessment. Mitig Adapt Strat Glob Change 4:199–213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Smit B, Burton I, Klein RJT, Wandel J (2000a) An anatomy of adaptation to climate change and variability. Climatic Change 45:223–251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Smit B, Harvey E, Smithers C (2000b) How is climate change relevant to farmers? In: Scott D et al. (eds) Climate change communication, Kitchener, ON, Alternatives Journal, pp F3 18–F3 25Google Scholar
  75. Smit B, Skinner M (2002) Adaptation options in agriculture to climate change: a typology. Mitig Adapt Strat Glob Change 7:85–114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Smit B, Pilifosova O (2001) Adaptation to climate change in the context of sustainable development and equity. In: McCarthy JJ, Canziani OF, Leary NA, Dokken DJ, White KS (eds) Climate change 2001: impacts, adaptation and vulnerability—contribution of Working Group II to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 876–912Google Scholar
  77. Smit B, Pilifosova O (2003) From adaptation to adaptive capacity and vulnerability reduction. In: Huq S, Smith J, Klein RTJ (eds), Enhancing the capacity of developing countries to adapt to climate change. Imperial College Press, London, pp 9–28Google Scholar
  78. Smit, B, Wandel J (2006) Adaptation, adaptive capacity and vulnerability. Global Environmental Change (in press)Google Scholar
  79. Smith J, Lavender B, Auld H, Broadhurst D, Bullock T (1998) Adapting to climate change and variability in Ontario, Volume IV of the Canada Country Study: Climate Impacts and Adaptation. Environment Canada, Downsview, OntarioGoogle Scholar
  80. Smithers J, Smit B (1997) Human adaptation to climatic variability and change. Global Environ Change 7:129–146CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry (2003) Climate change: we are at risk. Senate of Canada, OttawaGoogle Scholar
  82. Statistics Canada (2001) Agriculture 2001 census. Retrieved October 8, 2003, from Scholar
  83. Tan CS, Reynolds WD (2003) Impacts of recent climate trends on agriculture in southwestern Ontario. Can Water Resour J 28:87–95CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Tol RSJ, Fankhauser S, Smith JB (1998) The scope of adaptation to climate change: what can we learn from the impact literature? Global Environ Change 8:109–123CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Wall, E, Smit B, Wandel J (2004) Canadian agri-food sector adaptation to risks and opportunities from climate change: position paper on climate change, impacts and adaptation in Canadian agriculture, Guelph, ON, Canadian Climate Impacts and Adaptation Research Network (C-CIARN), October 2004, 55 ppGoogle Scholar
  86. Wandel J, Smit B (2000) Agricultural risk management in light of climate variability and change. In: Millward H, Beesley K, Ilbery B, Harrington L (eds) Agriculture and environmental sustainability in the new Countryside, Hignell Printing Limited, Winnipeg, pp 30–39Google Scholar
  87. Wilkinson S (2004) Focus group research. In: Silverman D (ed), Qualitative research: theory, method and practice, 2nd edn. Sage, London, pp 177–199Google Scholar
  88. Williams GDV, Wheaton EE (1998) Estimating biomass and wind erosion impacts for several climatic scenarios: a Saskatchewan case study. Prairie Forum 23(1):49–66Google Scholar
  89. Winkler J, Andresen J, Guentchev G, Kriegel R (2002) Possible impacts of projected temperature change on commercial fruit production in the Great Lakes Region. J Great Lakes Res 28:608–625CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Yohe G (2000) Assessing the role of adaptation in evaluating vulnerability to climate change. Climatic Change 46:371–390CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Yohe G, Tol RSJ (2002) Indicators for social and economic coping capacity—moving toward a working definition of adaptive capacity. Global Environ Change 12:25–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susanna Reid
    • 1
  • Barry Smit
    • 2
  • Wayne Caldwell
    • 1
    • 3
  • Suzanne Belliveau
    • 4
  1. 1.County of HuronGoderichCanada
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada
  3. 3.Rural Planning and DevelopmentUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada
  4. 4.Department of GeographyUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada

Personalised recommendations