Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
The topic of drought continues to gain attention both in Canada and around the world as a risk to agricultural production and food security. As climate conditions change and precipitation patterns become increasingly erratic, producers are exercising caution by adapting their on-farm practices accordingly. Drought conditions, however, can be difficult to predict and costly to recover from, especially in regions with highly variable climates such as the Canadian Prairies. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) research scientists Trevor Hadwen, Marilee Pregitzer, Dr. Catherine Champagne, Calvin Poff and Richard Warrenhave developed new scientific modeling that provides Canada's first outlook into future drought conditions. The Drought Outlook tool forecasts 30 days into the future as part of AAFC's Canadian Drought Monitor.
"As risks from climate change increase, understanding how drought will affect farmers across the country has become very important," says Hadwen. "This tool will provide producers and other decision-makers with a sense of future drought conditions."
The forecasts are modeled using AAFC's monthly Drought Monitor assessments in combination with precipitation and temperature forecasts provided by project partner Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) to predict likely drought conditions one month into the future. The Drought Monitor assessments are an important foundation upon which the forecasts are based because they are developed using several indicators including farmer-provided regional impact reports, agro-climate impact reports, satellite imagery, and a volunteer precipitation measurement group to reflect real conditions on the ground.
"The Drought Monitor is a true assessment of conditions rather than a modelled output. Our decisions are based upon what the indicators are showing us and what the farmer in one of those regions might be experiencing," says Hadwen.
The Outlook is part of a larger suite of tools available to producers through the Drought Monitor that can be used in drought preparedness and integrated drought management. Tools such as the recently-developed Vegetation Drought Response Index (VegDRI) provides a map of the agricultural regions in Canada where lack of moisture or too much moisture may be affecting vegetative health. While current tools in the Monitor provide real-time assessments, the Outlook is unique in its ability to predict the onset of future drought conditions, informing better planning to mitigate against drought-related impacts.
"In agriculture, our systems have been developed around a certain expected climate. The problem that we are seeing is that extremes between really wet years and really dry years are becoming more regular and more severe. Some of this is related to precipitation coming at the wrong time or precipitation coming all at once. Anything that farmers can do to increase their coping capacity during extremely dry and wet conditions is beneficial to helping the industry become more resilient."
- Trevor Hadwen, Agroclimate Specialist, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Canada's lead on drought monitoring and reporting, AAFC also supplies its Outlook forecasts to the Drought Early Warning System (DEWS), a national tool providing comprehensive and accessible drought information to policy makers. AAFC continues to monitor and provide early warnings for drought conditions through intergovernmental collaboration with the United States and Mexico as part of the North American Drought Monitor.
Further leadership on Drought Risk Mitigation, Preparedness, and Response is contributed by Canada through Hadwen's role as member of the International Working Group on Drought of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), established by governments during the 14th session of the Conference of Parties (COP 14) to the UNCCD in 2019.
AAFC continues to support decision-makers and farmers with the information needed to mitigate the impacts and costs of future drought events by identifying and working with new tools to optimize drought monitoring activities under its Monitoring Mandate.
- Changing climate conditions and unpredictable precipitation patterns can have costly impacts on producers and the agricultural industry as a whole. To mitigate these impacts, producers can adapt their on-farm management and drought preparedness practices to include tools that provide real-time assessments of drought conditions in their region; however, drought forecasts were not available in Canada until now.
- The first of its kind in Canada, the Drought Outlook provides a 30-day forecast into future drought conditions using AAFC's monthly Drought Monitor assessments in combination with precipitation and temperature forecasts provided by project partner Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) to predict likely drought conditions.
- As part of AAFC's Monitoring Mandate, the Drought Outlook's regional forecasts are available through the Drought Early Warning System (DEWS), a national tool providing comprehensive and accessible drought information to decision makers to inform program and policy development.