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Title: Projecting trends in agronomic, economic, and environmental performance of Canadian dairy farms under future climate conditions

item THIVIERGE, MARIE-NOELLE - Agri Food - Canada
item JEGO, GUILLAUME - Agri Food - Canada
item BELANGER, GILLES - Agri Food - Canada
item CHANTIGNY, MARTIN - Agri Food - Canada
item Rotz, Clarence - Al
item CHARBONNEAU, ELECTRIQUE - University Of Laval
item BARON, VERN - Agri Food - Canada
item NOLAN, SHEILAH - Government Of Alberta
item QIAN, BUDONG - Agri Food - Canada

Submitted to: Agricultural Systems
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/7/2017
Publication Date: 8/21/2017
Citation: Thivierge, M., Jego, G., Belanger, G., Chantigny, M., Rotz, C.A., Charbonneau, E., Baron, V., Nolan, S., Qian, B. 2017. Projecting trends in agronomic, economic, and environmental performance of Canadian dairy farms under future climate conditions. Agricultural Systems. 157:241-257. doi: 10.1016/j.agsy.2017.07.003.

Interpretive Summary: Projected climate change will impact Canadian dairy farms in many ways including effects on performance, economics and emissions to the environment. Process level simulation of production systems driven by projected climate data provides a tool for evaluating whole farm impacts and developing adaptation strategies to maintain sustainable systems as we deal with changes in climate over this century. Simulation of dairy farms in central and eastern Canada under various projected climate scenarios show that with appropriate adaptation of crop varieties and planting and harvest dates, Canadian producers can take advantage of longer growing seasons and increased precipitation to increase feed production and maintain or increase dairy farm profitability. However, warmer temperatures and greater rainfall will lead to increased emissions and nutrient runoff losses unless appropriate mitigation practices are employed.

Technical Abstract: Climate change is expected to increase agricultural productivity in Canada as in many northern areas in the world. This will likely come along with changes in the environmental and economic performance of dairy farms, one of the most important agricultural sectors in Canada. The objective of this study was to project trends in agronomic, economic, and environmental performances of virtual dairy farms in three ecozones in Canada through near (2020-2049) and distant (2050-2079) future periods, using the Integrated Farm System Model with climate scenarios generated by three general circulation models (CanESM2, CanRCM4, and HadGEM2). Across the three studied areas, increases in the growing season average temperature and accumulation of growing degree-days (GDD, base 5 ºC) were projected (2.2 to 5.1 ºC, and 388 to 1030 ºC-d, among scenarios), along with an increase in the occurrence of days with extremely high temperatures. Higher precipitation deficit, specifically in the distant future, due to greater evapotranspiration was also projected. Yields of perennial forages and warm-season crops (corn and soybean) were projected to increase, while those of small-grain cereals (wheat and barley) to slightly decrease. In the context of dairy production quotas, farm net returns were projected to increase (25 to 91% in the distant future) through greater feed sales. Many environmental losses were projected to increase, particularly ammonia emissions, P runoff, and methane emissions from manure storage, while methane emissions from animals and anthropogenic carbon dioxide were projected to decrease. Environmental footprints expressed per kg of milk were projected to change more for reactive N loss (-15 to 29%) than for C footprint (greenhouse gas emissions; -6 to 9%), relative to the reference period. Moreover, the N footprint was predicted to increase in most future climate and farm scenarios, while the C footprint decreased or stayed the same. Therefore, greenhouse gas mitigation should be a priority for dairy farms under future climate conditions, but this should not overshadow strategies to reduce N losses.