Farmer Responses to Weather Shocks and Stresses in Manitoba: A Resilience Approach
This thesis explores the concept of resilience of farmers and agroecosystems to climate shocks and stresses. The objectives were (1) to identify weather-related shocks and stresses that Manitoba farmers have experienced over the past five years; (2) to determine how farmers have responded to these events, and (3) what can be learned from these responses to build resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change. The work was based on 80 semi-structured interviews (60 with farmers, 20 with organizational representatives) in two Manitoba case study areas, conducted between August 2004 and March 2005. Interviews focused on weather-related shocks and stresses and the subsequent farmer responses in the period, 1999-2005. The findings suggest that farmers were experiencing heightened weather variability, and therefore increased vulnerability – as demonstrated by exposure to excess moisture in areas typified by moisture deficiencies ('Palliser's Triangle' area). Farmers responded to weather stresses in a variety of ways, including long and short term strategies. This response diversity increased the options available when farmers were exposed to unforeseeable future change. For example, reduced tillage, together with shelterbelts, provided complimentary methods for soil and water conservation.
However, long term adaptation was limited by economic pressures and rural decline in both population and services. Low commodity prices and an aging workforce reduced incentives to modify land use practices in ways which foster and protect ecological services. Furthermore, many response strategies where adopted for short-term economics, rather than long-term resilience and systems-orientated thinking. The research reveals that farmers think that the public under-appreciates the farmers' role in food production and environmental stewardship.
Issues of wide-scale attitudinal change and shared environmental responsibility are core issues to building agroecosystem resilience to climate change. This project assessed farmer responses using resilience indicators. These included enhancing flexibility through the creation of options; incorporating local resource management knowledge into farm practices; and incorporating and protecting ecological services into farm practices. There was evidence of these responses in the study. However, overall farmer responses added up to less than the potential. While farmers diversified in ways that built resilience to weather shocks and stresses, systemic issues, including economic and policy disincentives, inhibited more effective resilience-building.