Regional Climate and Production Systems

Historical climate and production capacity

This region consists of the Peace River Regional District, which, at 119,000 square kilometers, is the largest regional district in BC. It also has the largest agricultural area in the province, with almost 800,000 hectares of farmland in 2016. Most of the agricultural land is located in the relatively flat northeastern part of the region. The Peace has long, cold winters and short, warm summers. Average annual precipitation is moderate, between 350-500 millimeters. As one of Canada’s northernmost agricultural areas, the region benefits from long daylight hours in the summer. These conditions support early-maturing or short-season crops that can perform well at lower temperatures and take advantage of the daylight hours.

Approximately 60% of the Agricultural Land Reserve area in the region has soils of Class 3 or 4. Many of the soils in the region are prone to erosion, and some are acidic. High rates of evapotranspiration often create dry soils in late summer, particularly in lowland areas. Moisture availability is the major limiting factor for most agricultural land in the region. In 2017, over 1.2 million hectares in the region were included in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Agricultural production

In 2016, the Peace region had 1,311 farms – 8% of the farms in BC. Key agricultural commodities in the Peace include grains, oilseeds, forage seed, and cattle and forage. Many producers are involved in some combination of these commodities. Agriculture in the Peace region is unique within BC. The average farm size is over 600 hectares, compared to the BC average of 147 hectares. This region produces almost 75% of BC’s grain and 98% of its canola. Crop production in the region is almost totally dryland (non-irrigated). A large amount of oil and gas development has happened on, or near, agricultural land in the region. The oil and gas sectors have been part of the Peace region’s economy since the 1960s.

Top Issues & Projects

Projections provided by the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium were shared during the regional planning process where producers discussed how the anticipated changes would likely affect their operations. Then they identified four climate issues as their top concerns. Many of these projects are a direct response to the adaptation strategies and top issues outlined in the Peace Adaptation Strategies plan. The projects are developed by CCAP with oversight and input from a regional working group. Other projects deliver applied research that supports climate change adaptation at the farm level. These 2-4 year projects fall under the Farm Adaptation Innovator Program.

Most crops are in the Peace are unirrigated and rely on precipitation for their moisture. Although overall annual precipitation is projected to increase, less will fall as snow and more is likely to fall in extreme events. Combined with hotter summers, these changes could increase the need for extra water storage, and irrigation may become more important. However, much of the region’s agricultural land is located well above river valleys. This poses technical and economic challenges for irrigation infrastructure development.

Related Resources:

Alternative Approaches to Agricultural Land Use Inventory in the Peace

Irrigation Potential in the Peace Region

Average annual precipitation is expected to increase in the Peace region, along with more intense and frequent extreme precipitation events. Extreme precipitation events that happen when soils are already saturated can lead to flooding, as experienced in this region in 2016 and 2020. These extreme events can also be problematic if they take place during very dry conditions when the soil isn’t able to absorb the water. In both situations, flooding, runoff and erosion can result.

Related Resources:

Farm Flood Readiness Toolkit

Best Practices for On-Farm Management of Runoff, Drainage and Erosion

Increasing variability in weather and seasonal conditions is adding to the complexity and costs of farm management and decision-making. The timing and frequency of extreme conditions — including drought, extreme precipitation and wildfire — is also difficult to predict. Producers need local data and research findings to support production and management decisions.

Related Resources:

Weather Data and Tools for the Peace Region

Increasing average annual temperatures, particularly winter temperatures, are likely to create favourable conditions for new pests to become established in the Peace. Monitoring changes in pest populations and ranges is important in areas such as the Peace where similar crops are grown across a large land base. During 2013 planning workshops, producers highlighted the importance of addressing this monitoring gap in the region.

Warmer temperatures, an increase in growing degree days and a longer growing season may also bring some advantages. Testing the boundaries for new crops can be risky. However, experimentation could lead to long-term economic benefits.

Related Resources:

Pest Monitoring in the Peace Region

Regional Projects