The Van Trump Report

Will Future Generations be Farming in the Arctic? Are There Buying Opportunities?

Agriculture and Arctic are two words you don’t often see used in combination. But as the world’s climate continues to shift, scientists predict rising temperatures in the circumpolar north will enable a substantial expansion of food production.

Farming is not easy in the Earth’s northern-most regions, but it’s not impossible. Farming in the Arctic traces back as far as the 10th century when one of the world’s first great agricultural societies made its home in Kujataa. Located in the southern subarctic region of Greenland, Norse farmer-hunters arriving from Iceland created a society based on farming, grazing, and marine mammal hunting.  

Many areas in the Arctic region could once again become major agriculture zones, and in the very near future. Climate modeling from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF) suggests a dramatically changing future for Alaska crops by 2100, with “frost-free seasons extending not just by days, but by weeks or months; cumulative summer heat doubling or more; and the coldest winter days becoming 10 or 15 degrees less extreme.” Nancy Fresco, a research professor at UAF, says perhaps the most startling projected shift is in what is known as “growing degree days” — a measurement of the cumulative buildup of daily heat above a crop-specific minimum threshold, across an entire summer.

“In the past, I would have been able to expect only about 850 growing degree days above a 50 degrees F threshold here in Fairbanks over the course of a typical summer, nowhere near the roughly 1,500 that corn would require to produce mature ears,” says Fresco. “But by the year 2100, my grandchildren might anticipate 2,700 growing degree days each year above a 50 degrees F threshold — more than enough to harvest sorghum, soybeans, cucumbers, sweet corn and tomatoes.”

Fresco says they’ve also witnessed huge changes in potential perennial crops because of the loss of “winter chill.” Chill hours are defined as the amount of time the temperature is below 45 degrees F. Fresco uses the USDA Plant Hardiness Zones to illustrate what this means. For those not familiar, the USDA zones are based on the average coldest winter temperature for a given area that can be used to determine where different plants will grow best.

Using the same categories as the USDA, Fresno and her team predict profound changes for Alaska Hardiness Zones. Fairbanks, for example, by the end of the century is projected to be in Zone 6 — the current zone in such places as Kansas and Kentucky. Historically, Fairbanks is in Zone 1 or 2.

Currently, only about 5% of the food consumed is Alaska is actually grown or raised in the state. Most shipments need to travel vast distances to reach the state’s widely dispersed communities, making them particularly vulnerable to even minor supply chain disruptions.

The intergovernmental Arctic Council, made up of the eight countries with territories within the Arctic – Canada, Denmark, Finland Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the U.S. – has been exploring ways to enhance commercial food production in the region for several years now. Individual governments, including Canada, Mongolia, and Russia, are exploring ways to expand commercial agriculture in the region as well. (Sources: ArcticToday, Arctic Council, Civil Eats)

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