Lorie Smith, Georgian Central Regional Communication Coordinator

Nick Betts

Image of Nick Betts

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) report released August 9, 2021, outlines that the climate crisis is unequivocally caused by human activities and is unequivocally affecting every corner of the planet’s land, air and sea, and it could get far worse! Nick Betts, Sustainability and Collaboration Director with his company Blue Orenda, may be a familiar name to many, as he worked at OSCIA and OMAFRA. Betts states that “Farmers will need to adopt more adaptive management and mitigation on-farm to ensure not only the ongoing effectiveness of farming, but the survival of our food systems.”

Western Canada and the prairies are going to be harder hit by climate change. It has been predicted for over 50 years that B.C. would be under a heat dome. In July, Lytton B.C. set the record for the hottest temperature ever recorded in Canada at 49.6°C, breaking the previous record set in 1941 in B.C. by 5.2°C. In most of Ontario, typically we have been fortunate with getting the right amount of rain and heat at the right time. Betts says that according to IPCC reports, agricultural Ontario won’t see as dramatic affects as some of the other parts of Canada. However, Ontario’s “perfect” seasonality and predictability will not be a given any longer. Tornadoes will increase in severity, there will be more hailstorms, more extreme highs, lows, rains, and drought periods, perhaps all in one growing season. Another challenge for agriculture is that the life-cycle for insects may no longer align with the life-cycle of the tree or plant resulting in insect die-off and yield hits.

As a scientist, what is pushing up the red flags for Betts are not necessarily the hailstorms, windstorms or forest fires, it is the little things. For example, the minimum daily temperatures have been increasing on a regular basis. As the winter temperatures get warmer, disease, pests, and weeds will be able to overwinter, which will significantly impact crop production. The regionality and severity of precipitation events are also a concern. Receiving “normal” rain amounts in half the amount of time will impact the plant’s ability to uptake that rain and will increase runoff and erosion.

The biggest question is, how do we adapt agriculture to become more resilient to weather extremes, and still produce quality food? Betts urges farmers to incorporate a more integrated system that includes regenerative practices to blunt extreme weather events. He states that the biology and the structure of our soils are really what is going to save us. The Sustainability Agri Initiative Platform that Betts is a part of, has developed a regenerative work stream, set on five principals. The principals are largely soil based: enabling living root systems; maintaining soil cover; minimizing system disturbance—ecological, biological and soil structure; maximizing biodiversity in field and on field edge; and growing functional soil. Minimal-till or no-till, cover crops, specific crop rotations, re-inoculating the soil with certain beneficial biologicals, integrated pest management systems, plant tech, and biotech will all be a part of the solution.

A big piece of the Platform’s regenerative practices framework is tillage. Betts gives the illustration that “When you cut into the soil, especially deeply, it is like cutting a path through a rain forest. You are destroying that biology and structure.” Betts is encouraged by the number of producers who are already implementing no-till. Even the potato industry which typically requires intensive tillage on sandy or silty land are evaluating no-till. They are saving money by using less engine power, and less diesel. Fewer passes on the fields with smaller equipment also means less compaction. Betts says that it is important that we understand the transition costs to a grower. It is known that it will take four to five years to establish a no-till system. The missing piece is what kind of yield hit should be expected in different crops for that period? Betts posed, “Is there a way that we can build in a cost share/financial mechanism as part of a climate change mitigation program to help incentivize growers to switch to no-till and de-risk it? That risk should belong to all of us, not just the farmers.”

The changing climate will throw reliable, longstanding patterns and expectations out the window. For example, seeding dates are going to have to change. That presents a problem with crop insurance as it stands today. There are different types of insurance forming up now that are not focused on yield or farm management, but on aspects of climate. They offer parametric insurance which uses climate indices that measure your exposure to natural events. If events happen that counter that index, then the farmer receives funds.

With global heating, the agricultural lessons of tradition and experience are expiring. There are so many unanswered questions! How will we as an agricultural industry move forward? Will others, who have a fundamental role to play in supporting the development of the resilient agricultural systems, be there to support us? The answers, like the weather forecasts, are hard to predict.

Edited on October 4, 2021, to include the following comments from an OSCIA Member:

You may want to consider fertile stripping BMP.  This cropping practice is two levels newer that the no-till cropping plan. In my opinion no-till has never been a smart agronomic solution and is used mostly in the soybean and corn crop reproduction in my area.  It only has minimal biological and agronomical benefits.  With no-till cropping, farmers are trying to grow that plant in the area the size of a golf ball. Anything with roots wider than that, the roots have to fight to grow wider.  Fertile stripping uses a seed / root zone 6″ x 5″ of light fluffy moist fertilizer rich soil. By using fertile stripping BMP, you are only working 1/5 of the soil and leaving 80% of the field untouched, and there is no disturbance to the biological life in the soil. This creates a sustainable bio life cycle that enhances the reproduction of the bacteria and worms in the soil. A great contact for more info on this process are the folks at GPS Ontario 613-489-2932 They have plots and data to share.

2 Responses

  1. Reply
    Morley Wallace
    Sep 20, 2021 - 04:12 PM

    Interesting article and the information as presented is mostly correct You now need to apply your thinking to Fertile stripping BMP this cropping practice is 2 levels newer that the nt cropping plan In my opinion nt has never been a smart agronomic solution used mostly in the soybean and corn crop reproduction in my area, it only has minimal biological and agronomical benefits nt cropping is trying to grow that plant in the area the size of a golf ball any thing wider than that and it is fighting to grow root any wider. where Fertile stripping uses a seed / root zone 6″ x 5″ of light fluffy moist fertilizer rich soil. by using fertile stripping BMP you are only working 1/5 of the soil and leaving 80% of the field untouched their is no disturbance to the biological life in the soil This creates a sustainable bio life cycle that enhances the reproduction of the bacterial and worms in the soil. A great contact for more info on this process are the folks at GPS Ontario 613-489-2932 They have plots and data to share. If you are going to test and research ABMP (Advanced Better Management practices) then at least use the most advanced MBP available mjw

    • Reply
      Lorie Smith
      Sep 21, 2021 - 04:58 PM

      Thanks so much Morley for your response and for this additional information. I will definitely look into Fertile Stripping to learn more. I also organize the Grey Bruce Farmers’ Week conference and winter courses at Grey Ag, so this topic would be a good one to pursue further. I appreciate your thoughts and perspective. Have a great day!! Lorie

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