If Alberta premier-designate Rachel Notley is looking to wean her province’s economy from its oil addiction, she may find that climate change, ironically enough, turns into an unexpected ally. The Prairies, once hailed as the breadbasket of the world, could find that description gain renewed currency in the years to come. With climate change set to bring about profound changes to global food production, Canada may come to find itself in something of an unforeseen sweet spot.

While the Prairies are a major grain producer, crop production is nevertheless limited by the short growing season that comes with Canada’s northern latitude. Turn the thermostat up, however, and the region’s agricultural potential begins to look different. And make no mistake—the temperature is going up. Scientists at NASA, for one, identify the Prairies as a climate change hot spot where temperatures will rise by more than the global average.

Indeed, the predicted warming has already started. Average temperatures are up 1.6 degrees since monitoring began on the Prairies in 1895. What’s more, the warming trend is accelerating. By mid-century, average temperatures in southern Alberta are expected to rise by 2 degrees compared to readings in the period between 1961 and 1990. On the northern margins of agriculture, in the Peace River region, the temperature increase is expected to increase even more dramatically.

In northern countries like Canada such temperature increases can be a game changer for the agricultural industry. Historically, crop-killing frost is the greatest constraint on production. Compared to southern latitudes, the growing season, defined by the number of frost-free days, can be cut in half. Change the dial on the thermostat, though, and farming in this country starts to look much different.

Weather records indicate that spring is already coming more than two weeks earlier for Alberta these days than it did half a century ago. The predicted temperature changes could add another three to four weeks to growing seasons, which would facilitate better yields, as well as change the types of crops that can be planted.

That prospect hasn’t been lost on giant seed producers like Dupont Pioneer and Monsanto. Each has held clinics in recent years to show prairie grain farmers how to grow corn, a higher value crop. Until recently, the idea of planting corn on most of the Prairies has been a non-starter due to the compressed growing season.

Not so any more. Corn production in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba has doubled over the last two years. Seed companies, meanwhile, are predicting exponential gains as the growing season continues to lengthen.

The same warming trends that could encourage western Canadian farmers to plant corn and soybeans could have the opposite effect on the Midwest corn belt. With the US accounting for roughly 40 percent of global corn production, poor crops there have a dramatic impact on corn prices. An unfortunate loss for US farmers would, however, translate into higher corn prices, increasing the size of the win for Canadian corn growers.

We caught a glimpse of what that scenario looks like in 2012 when the worst drought in 70 years devastated Midwest corn production and sent prices soaring by nearly 50 percent. According to the National Climate Assessment—a collaborative effort of 13 different US agencies—such heat waves and ensuing droughts will only become more common in the Midwest.

The predicted incidence of successive days of 35 degree-plus temperatures combined with a rise in the number of consecutive days with minimal rainfall will create tough conditions for agriculture. While farmers will turn more to irrigation, the Ogallala Aquifer, the region’s major source of ground water, is already depleting at an alarming rate. In states such as Kansas some 70 percent of the aquifer is expected to be pumped out by 2050.

Alberta, even without the sun shining on the oil industry, may yet be the centre of gravity for the country’s economy. Instead of bitumen, though, fields of golden wheat, canola, and perhaps even emerald acres of corn will be responsible for generating much of the province’s wealth.

  • Justin White

    I liked the article. I would, however, like to stress that the author bone up on his writing skills. There is a large overuse of parenthetical asides that grew distracting a few paragraphs in (putting a single word between commas – such as ‘however’, ‘meanwhile’, ‘though’, or even ‘ironically enough’ or ‘for one’.)

    While is is grammatically correct to do so, this amount of overuse is noticeably jarring to the reader. Nearly every paragraph has one or more asides that are two words or less.

    The longer asides (such as ‘once hailed as the breadbasket of the world’) are fine.

  • rigpigpetey

    and all the equipment required to seed, irrigate, harvest, process and transport those bumper crops will come by way of,……….magic wand or solar imprint? Or am i missing something?

    From economist to soothsayer,………thats quite the leap.

  • Jordan McAllister

    Hi Jeff.

    Your interview this morning on CBC ‘The Current’ was brilliant. Is there any way to obtain a digital copy or link to the broadcast? Not only would I like to listen again, but would wish to share.


    Jordan McAllister

  • Reuben Burns

    Here is an Infographic representing the actual costs of basic needs, with CO2 costing approx. $600/tonne to remove and 33% of worldwide emissions* resulting from agriculture, the actual costs of nutrition is much higher. Reduction schemes such as the EU’s emmission’s trading (€7/ton) or BC’s carbon tax (CA$30/ton) do little to represent actual costs. (*IFO) The cost of a calorie of food today ranges between $0.0018/cal. for the quick calorie to $0.018/cal. for low-energy dense foods, add the actual cost of carbon and this cost increases significantly.

  • MB

    An interesting thesis that may need years of on the ground experience to confirm.
    Western Canadian agriculture can evolve to be so much more diversified than humongous fossil-fueled corporate grain farms churning up the soil that settles as dust on the dissolving ice sheets of Greenland. It is clear that water will be the control, followed by fuel, and that conservation tillage and surface runoff capture and storage will become necessary. The development of perennial high-yield wheat and other grains is ripe for government research, so to speak. Some perennials have root systems that are orders of magnitude more extensive and deep than the traditional annuals and are designed for drought and can withstand periodic flooding.
    Corn was mentioned. So much of it was devoted to biofuels in a misguided US government policy under G.W. Bush that it drove up the world price. This also gave next generation biofuels and undeserved black eye, and the critics rightly portrayed it as a gas tank vs food issue. However, when you take car dependency out of the equation by building more mass transit you also eliminate the largest share of transport fuels. That leaves farm, emergency service and commercial vehicles that could switch to biodiesel grown on a land base limited in size and of lower quality using lesser grade seed stock*. Rail transport will, within a couple or three decades, have to electrify. Flight will no longer be affordable except to the rich and priority public services like defense.
    * There is a certain justice in farmers becoming vitally important after decades of being subserviant to big oil, big banks, the international markets and agribiz which tended to impose more costs and less income on them. How ironic that farmers may be able to grow their own fuel and finally get decent local prices for their products.
    An agronomist recently studied the BC ALR Class 1-3 soils destined to be flooded by the Site C dam on the Peace River and found that less than 2,000 hectares can feed one million people a year if intensively planted with a wide variety of vegetable and fruit crops. Moreover, the value of these crops will equate to the estimated $10 billion construction costs of the dam within a decade. With the ongoing severe California drought and petroleum-based transportation edging higher in cost on a long-term average (the current dip in oil prices won’t last forever), Canada will have to plan for growing more of its own food in market gardens close to cities, and consider developing solar greenhouses for winter food production.
    One interesting fact she cited was that the growing season insolation index is higher at 56 degrees N lattitude where Site C is located which really drives plant growth higher. Most of the best prairie grassland soils stop at about 53 degrees where it transitions to thinner coniferous forest soils. Nonetheless, there is more solar energy May-October at 53 degrees than there is at 50. Not quite the Midnight Sun, but you get the picture.
    Creating sustainable Canadian agricuture is intriguing stuff.

  • Peter Salonius

    Hello Jeff
    I sent the following to Premier Rachel Notley early this morning.
    From: petersalonius@hotmail.com
    To: rachelnotley@albertandp.ca; info@albertandp.ca
    CC: contact@friendsofscience.org; afjacobs@telus.net; cameroni@shaw.ca
    Subject: Reminder – June 2 – Dr. Nir Shaviv in Calgary – Solar Influence on Climate Change
    Date: Sun, 24 May 2015 08:45:04 -0300

    Dear Premier Notley and Alberta NDP Staff ……… CC: Friends of Science personnel in Calgary

    Recent news reports suggest your government is considering a new carbon tax for Alberta, and that the oil and gas industry appears to be signing on to the idea of a new carbon tax for Alberta.

    If this initiative is predicated on the idea that a new carbon tax for Alberta might influence to use the temporarily available non renewable fossil fuel resource as responsibly as possible during the rest of the century —- then it may serve a valuable long-term purpose // BUT if the goal of the new carbon tax is to ‘protect the Earth from [so-called] Catastrophic Anthropogenic [human caused] Climate Warming ……………. then it would be a fool’s errand.

    I have been reading climate science intensively for over five years after having been shocked to find that the mandate of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( IPCC) has always been to myopically seek information about HUMAN CAUSED CLIMATE CHANGE while disregarding natural causes of the climate changes that have been occurring since the Earth cooled.

    I suggest that you should designate some of your staff /trusted advisers to attend the lecture by Dr. Nir Shaviv In Calgary on June 2nd (see attachment) AND you and your staff / trusted advisers should consult with staff of Friends of Science (FOS) in Calgary before precipitously launching a new carbon tax for Alberta whose goal is to “fight human caused climate change” by decreasing carbon containing greenhouse gas emissions. If you become convinced (as I believe you will be when the science is explained to you) that climate warming is not a major environmental problem, and that the contribution of human emissions of carbon containing greenhouse gases contribute very little to the phenomenon of climate warming —- then you may opt to take a true leadership role against the massively taxpayer funded ‘group think’ concerning climate warming that has prevailed for the last three decades.

    The ticket price for attendance at Dr. Shaviv’s presentation gives you some idea as to how rich Friends of Science is …… FOS has no major funders.

    Also, perhaps you may be inclined to recommend attendance to anyone in the Calgary area that you think might find Shaviv’s presentation of interest.

    Peter Salonius
    From: contact@friendsofscience.org
    To: contact@friendsofscience.org
    Subject: Reminder – June 2 – Dr. Nir Shaviv in Calgary – Solar Influence on Climate Change
    Date: Wed, 13 May 2015 14:30:12 -0600

    Dear Friends,

    Just a friendly reminder to purchase your tickets for the June 2 special presentation in Calgary, where the featured guest speaker will be Dr. Nir Shaviv, Astrophysicist. The title of his talk will be “Solar forcing and our understanding of past and future climate change”. Dr. Shaviv will explain and demonstrate that the sun is an important climate driver but it is missing from the standard climate analyses. As a consequence, the standard (i.e. IPCC) models have a much higher climate sensitivity than the real Earth has, such that future climate response to anthropogenic forcing (human industrial activities or emissions that may affect climate), will be “much more benign than alarmists frighten us with.” Dr. Shaviv’s presentation will be of interest to the general public as well as those in the sciences.

    Dr. Shaviv, is presently on sabbatical as an IBM Einstein Fellow in the field of astrophysics at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study. His home institution is The Hebrew University of Jerusalem where he is a full professor of physics in the Racah Institute of Physics.

    Event includes a ~30 min presentation with Q & A. Event opens with light appetizers during the mix ‘n mingle 5:45-6:30pm followed by opening messages. Dr. Shaviv’s presentation starts at 7:00pm. Cash bar will be open during a short intermission followed by Q & A. Seating will be tables of 8.

    Tickets are $35 dollars each or $25 dollars for Students and can be purchased now at: https://dr-nir-shaviv-solar-forcing-and-climate-change.eventbrite.ca Please order by May 27 so we have our catering numbers.

    Please share the details of this event with anyone you might think is interested.

    If you have any questions, please email: contact@friendsofscience.org or call 1-888-789-9597.


    Julie Toblan

    Office Manager

    Friends of Science
    P.O. Box 23167, Mission P.O.
    Calgary, Alberta
    Canada T2S 3B1

    Toll-free Telephone: 1-888-789-9597
    E-mail: contact@friendsofscience.org
    Web: http://www.friendsofscience.org

    Over twelve years of providing independent climate science information

  • MB

    Now for an antidote.

    Here’s what SourceWatch has to say, in part, about the
    “Friends” of Science:

    >>The Friends of Science Society (FoS) is a Canadian
    non-profit group based in Calgary, Alberta, that is “made up of active and retired engineers, earth scientists and other professionals, as well as many concerned Canadians, who believe the science behind the Kyoto Protocol is questionable.”

    >>In an August 12, 2006, article The Globe and Mail revealed that the group had received significant funding via anonymous, indirect donations from the oil industry,
    including a major grant from the Science Education Fund, a donor-directed, flow-through charitable fund at the Calgary Foundation. The donations were funneled through a University of Calgary trust account research set up and
    controlled by U of C Professor Barry Cooper. The
    revelations were based largely on the prior investigations of Desmogblog.com, which had reported on the background of FoS scientific advisors and Cooper’s role in FoS funding.

    >>In the course of an internal review and audit begun in March of 2007, the University determined that some of the research funds accepted on behalf of the Friends of Science “had been used to support a partisan viewpoint on
    climate change” and had returned unspent grant money on September 10, 2007, according to a Calgary Foundation statement. As a consequence, the University advised FoS “that it would no longer accept funds on the organization’s behalf”, according to an email from University legal counsel Elizabeth Osler sent on December 24, 2007. On February 17, 2008, CanWest News Service reported that U of C officials had shut down Cooper’s “‘Research on Climate Change’ trust account”, and were about to advise Elections Canada of the University’s ongoing review of the matter.

    >>”The University of Calgary has long-standing and publicly-stated concerns about Friends of Science using the University of Calgary’s name to infer that it has the University’s endorsement. Our response has included cease-and-desist directives to the Friends of Science from the University’s legal counsel.”

    Friends of Science information was used in third party
    advertising and political advocacy supporting the Conservative Party of Canada and other political organizations that were sympathetic to climate science
    denial and protecting the vested fossil fuel industry from legislated carbon taxes or other carbon pricing mechanisms.

    This is hardly a politically-neutral independent organization.

    Lots more information at:


    Some salient information about Nir Shaviv from DeSmogBlog (paraphrased):

    Dr. Nir Shaviv is an associate professor of physics at
    the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. You could say he is a luke-warmist, that is he believes about 2/3rds of global warming over the last 30 years pertains to natural causes and 1/3rd to human influence. He believes that the human influence will have deleterious effects on climate but not until late this century and throughout the next. He believes civilization should strive to minimize its dependency on fossil fuels mostly because of depletion.

    There are kernels of truth in what he espouses. This tells us that even the top climate science critics have moved on from the outright, comically anti-science denial of a decade ago to admitting the hundreds of peer-reviewed reports on the observed evidence and models are at least partially correct while trotting out a few select scientists to say so.

    The researchers at Skeptical Science searched but did
    not find any articles or reports published by Shaviv specifically in any peer-reviewed climate science journal, yet he criticizes climate science in other reports and is paid to do so by affiliates like the Heartland Institute which receives tens of millions from the fossil fuel industry, notably the Koch brothers which have a long record of fighting climate science to protect their economic interests.


    It behooves us even today to continue to be on our toes
    when listening to otherwise credible professors being used by fossil fuel industry-linked organizations to use their credentials to pan placing a price on carbon by denying in part or in whole the existence of man-made climate change through using the largest Commons of all, the atmosphere, as a free dump.

    If a carbon tax was so onerous then the province of BC
    would have ceased to exist years ago when it implemented North America’s first carbon tax. The World has not stopped
    turning, and in fact BC emissions went down while its economy recently showed the huge benefits of economic diversification where it experienced not even a dip in performance as the price of oil descended to a level still 300+% higher than the price in the 90s, and as Alberta’s one-piston engine sputtered.

  • John Matheson

    Notley can also finance energy reduction projects. This would have immediate benefits. Reducing power consumption is the fastest way to move along the coal – gas – renewables spectrum. We can cut power consumption in buildings by 50% through HVAC changes, lights, and water heater replacement.

  • sprocketsanjay

    Your argument for Canada becoming a grain producing super power assumes that only the temperature will go up making frost ridden plains warm and sunny. This is a little bit simplistic. You must surely appreciate climate change is not just about temperature. Precipitation changes are key to crop growth and I am not just thinking of droughts but also suuden deluges from atmospheric rivers. Large parts of Pakistan have recently been abandoned for crop farming due to increasing frequency of large downpours. The temperature is fine there perhaps the soil may not be ideal but crop farming was possible there and no longer is.

    No one can predict with any level of certainty, including NASA, what weather patterns are going to be like in localised regions. I think your finance upbringing is making you predict the future. I could just as easily look in a crystal ball as read your blog for that when it comes to the climate. I do however find your writing very interesting. Thanks for your blog.

  • Doug

    Just look at this season to see why higher temperature isn’t all that’s required for agriculture in the Prairies. This year the west is in a serious drought, so the idea of the Prairies being more productive in years to come may be overly optomistic pie in the sky.

  • lazylarry

    the last thing canada needs is to grow more monsano gmo corn and soy, that will mean tons and tons of more chemicals sprayed on our land, gmo crops make people sick and that states can keep their poisons

  • lazylarry
  • lazylarry
  • lazylarry

    all gmo crops should be banned in Canada

  • lazylarry

    STUDY: Fragments of GMO DNA were found in the brains, blood and liver of Wistar rats fed a GMO diet after 30, 60 and 90 days of feeding. Most disturbingly, higher levels were found as feeding duration increased, suggesting accumulation. Tests were only performed on brains, blood & liver tissue so the study does not rule out finding fragments of GMO DNA in other parts of the rats. But don’t worry,Monsanto says it’s safe even though no human health studies have been conducted. GOT GMO BRAIN?

    READ: http://www.academicjournals.org/journal/AJB/article-full-text/BE5331948800

    READ: No consensus on GMO Safetyhttp://www.gmofreeusa.org/research/gmo-safety/

    #GMOBrain #GMO #DNA #BanGMOs#BoycottGMOs #CaMV #labelgmos#needtoknowgmo #foodrebel #gmofreecanada#gmofreeusa