Adaptation in agriculture observed

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Not all adaptation actions require conscious knowledge of climate change risks (see Reilly and Schimmelpfenning, 2000). In the UK, Tompkins et al. (2005) have described over 340 adaptations to climate currently underway. Their inventory includes examples of adaptation to climate change in the public and private sectors, as well as community groups, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), other associations and networks (including, for example, trade associations) and individuals. In the United Kingdom, agriculture, in common with other sectors, is at an early stage in adaptation although the examples collected reveal some general patterns. Few of the observed and classified adaptation involve resource use change in the present day. Most examples reflect anticipatory planning for climate change. Planning for climate change impacts is implemented through scenario development and risk assessment. In the United Kingdom, the UK Climate Impacts Programme provides scenarios of change that are used by regional planning authorities and trade associations, including, for example, the Country Landowners' Association and National Farmers' Union, in setting priorities for action.

UK agriculture faces the challenge of climate change in coming decades. The impacts of higher mean temperature, increased precipitation and storms, and a rise in sea level all have serious implications for the United Kingdom's agricultural sector (Defra, 2005). It is widely anticipated that the range of arable crops currently grown will move northwards (area of forage maize has already been highlighted as an indicator of climate change): the area grown has risen from approximately 20 000 ha in 1985 to over 100 000 ha in 1995, only partly due to improved plant varieties (Subak et al., 2000). Types of adaptation in the farming sector include switching to alternative crops, shifting crops from areas that are vulnerable to drought, or investing in equipment that helps to reduce the severity of the impacts of climate change.

It is anticipated that agricultural businesses will need to adapt to the effect of climate change to ensure economic viability. For example, the costs of the 1995 summer drought to the agriculture industry have been estimated at a loss of GBP 457 million due to reduced income and capital costs (Subak et al., 2000). Evidence suggests that those farmers who implemented adaptation and management changes at that time secured advantages over others (Defra, 2005).

There are, however, also some policy changes and laws being implemented which will affect adaptation possibilities in the future. The majority of the adaptations in the UK identified by Tompkins et al. (2005) are occurring in the public sector. As yet, there is little evidence of behavioural change in either the public or private sector. Most of the examples are occurring at the national scale, in the devolved administrations and at the regional scale, with few examples at local levels. There appear to be very few, if any, adaptations that have been undertaken solely in response to expected climate change. This is in clear contrast to reported mitigation actions such as investment in biofuels as a contribution to renewable energy.

This result is common throughout the world. In Canada, most individual farmers respond primarily to extreme events such as prolonged drought and unseasonal or excessive rainfall. In a survey in Ontario, 80% of respondent farmers judged extreme events to be the most significant impact to which adaptation was required, rather than changing growing season length or heat stress (Smit et al., 1996). However, in some parts of Canada, adaptation programmes are quite advanced, such as in Alberta, where the provincial government has established the Alberta Climate Change Adaptation Team, which initiated province-wide and multi-sectoral assessments of vulnerability and adaptation strategies. In many cases, significant adaptation could be achieved and supported with adjustments to existing programmes and policy mechanisms (Lemmen et al., 2008).

There is some evidence from the United Kingdom to suggest that awareness of climate change and its impacts are generally high among agencies with responsibility for agriculture and farmers (Tompkins et al., 2005). Yet there is little evidence of individually planned adaptation to the impacts of climate change. In this sector there are a number of research programmes and emerging government guidelines that aim to address the long-term impacts of climate change. These actions are largely helping to build adaptive capacity, i.e. building up the knowledge about the likely impacts of climate change and appropriate responses needed. Regulations and policies to promote land-use practices may, however, have adaptation co-benefits or act as entry points for projects and programmes to engage in adaptation measures. These include agri-environment schemes. It is, however, too early to determine whether these actions will be effective or considered successful in the face of evolving climate risks.

The evidence on present-day adaptations in the UK agricultural sector has highlighted a lack of initial adaptation response despite relatively high awareness. It is much easier to find unplanned adaptations than planned adaptations and most planned adaptations fall into the category "building adaptive capacity" rather than "implementing adaptation". This finding may underestimate the actual extent of implementation. Some of these schemes and regulations (such as the Countryside Stewardship Scheme) are already affecting individual land-owners' actions, albeit individuals may be responding to the scheme requirements or regulation rather than considering climate change per se. Regional examples of adaptation include efforts by the East of England Regional Assembly, which stresses in its East of England Climate Change Impacts Study (2004) the need to adapt to water resource pressures. The Environmental Stewardship Scheme and the Water Act could, for example, create business opportunities for irrigators to trade water, invest in water saving and so on. Trickle irrigation, which promises lower water use, has expanded to cover 5% of the irrigated area in England and Wales (Knox and Weatherhead, 2005), and reports by farmers in 2001 indicate that over 50% of the irrigated area in England is now scheduled by methods that account for seasonal water availability (Weatherhead and Danert, 2002). Building farmer awareness of the possible impacts of climate change, communicating their adaptation options and their benefits, and working to remove any barriers to action are important roles for public policy.

In Australia, risk assessments for climate change impacts on various sectors of agriculture demonstrate that there are high potential returns to planned anticipatory adaptation. Howden and Jones (2004), for example, find that adaptation in the major arable-growing regions, through changing planting dates and varieties, is likely to be highly effective. They estimate impacts for a full range of climate scenarios over the incoming decades along with assessments of CO2 fertilization response (Asseng et al., 2004). They find high regional differences in impacts: Western Australian regions were likely to have significant yield reductions by 2070, while North-eastern Australia was likely to have moderate increases in yield. The benefits of adaptation in the wheat industry nationally are estimated to be substantial: benefits of around USD 160 million per year in present prices (though with a range of USD 70-350 million per year, depending on adoption rates, range of climatic stresses and other factors).

Virtually all present discussions of adaptation to climate change in agriculture involve water resource management and the potential for water stress as a key driver for change. A study of regional agricultural adaptation in the Okanagan Basin in British Columbia in Canada (Cohen et al., 2004) highlights potential interventions for adaptation to increase efficiency in water use. Agriculture in this region currently extracts 200 million cubic metres of weather annually to support high-value fruit trees, vines and pasture and forage. A range of ongoing adaptations were identified that involved both agricultural and non-agricultural users, including domestic water metering, irrigation metering, wastewater reclamation and re-use and amalgamation of individual water utilities. These adaptations are required currently since projections of climate change suggest higher demand due to higher summer temperatures and reduced supply. Introduction of charges for irrigation reduced demand by 10% while domestic metering in the region also yielded water-use efficiency gains. The important element of the initiatives for adaptation in the Okanagan is that the stakeholders involved, both in agriculture and outside it, have heightened awareness of the demand and supply issues raised by climate change through major stakeholder dialogues. Hence the suite of policies implemented in the region has a higher degree of legitimacy and ultimately of endorsement by the key sectors involved (Cohen et al., 2004).

In developing countries, many rural communities have developed responses to address high levels of current climate variability. In the Sahel, farmers face extreme irregularity in rainfall, with annual rainfall declining and drought frequency and intensity increasing. As a response to this, farmers have adapted their practices and adopted other income-generating activities in order to cope with this variability (Agrawal, 2008).

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