Weather disasters contributed to higher food prices in 2021

Record heat, severe drought and devastating floods have impacted food production, indirectly pushing prices in Canada to a decade high, according to data provided by Statistics Canada.

Food inflation is the year-to-year increase in the value of all food products. In December, food inflation hit 5.2%, according to Statistics Canada, from around 1% at the start of the year.

Around the world, food prices have risen sharply in 2021, according to a United Nations report. The agency’s food price index, which tracks monthly changes in international prices, showed a 28% increase from 2020. Along with labor shortages and a global pandemic, climatic conditions volatiles have been responsible for a reduction in production which has an impact on the prices of agricultural commodities.

Production impacted by unfavorable weather conditions

“We live in a global food system,” says Sean Smukler, chair of agriculture and environment at the University of British Columbia. “I can’t imagine there are many places in the world where production in one place doesn’t impact the price and availability of food in another place in the world.”

In a phone interview with CTVNews.ca, Smukler said weather-related events in 2021, such as droughts, changes in precipitation patterns and wildfires, have impacted food production. Smukler said markets are based on supply and demand, and if supply is affected, markets will react.

“These have long been predicted by climatologists and are now becoming a very obvious reality,” says Smukler.

A recent NASA study noted that global agriculture is facing a new climate reality and with the interconnectedness of the global food system, the impacts even on a region’s breadbasket will be felt globally. whole.

According to the Canadian Food Prices Report, in 2021 Canada experienced adverse weather effects related to climate change, such as severe wildfires in British Columbia and drought conditions in the Prairies, which had an impact on the prices of meat and bakery products.

Canada’s westernmost province has been hit hard by extreme weather, scorching heat and heavy rain accompanied by flooding. Last year, British Columbia faced extreme heat that severely damaged crops. With temperatures reaching 40 degrees, the heat has left around 50% of his berry crop damaged on some farms. A few months later, flooding disrupted the food supply, leaving the shelves empty. Flood damage in British Columbia resulted in an insured loss of $515 million, the highest insured loss of any severe weather event that year.

2021 was marked by a series of catastrophic weather changes, with the Calgary hailstorm and BC flooding resulting in a combined insured loss of $2.01 billion.

Other provinces in Canada have been hit by drought that has resulted in smaller harvests and lower agricultural yields, pushing up food prices.

Statistics Canada’s recent inflation report shows bakery prices rose 4.7% year-over-year as summer droughts reduced wheat crop yields, which increased costs for consumers. Barley, oat and soybean crops were also badly affected by the drought.

Canada is the world’s largest producer and exporter of canola, but extremely hot and dry weather conditions have hampered production, driving prices up in recent years.

In 2021, canola production fell to its lowest level since 2007 due to low yields. Western Canadian farmers have planted canola in some of the driest soils for a century. A heat wave in July further withered crops on the Canadian prairies, leading the U.S. Department of Agriculture to cut its estimate of canola production from 4.2 million tonnes to 16 million tonnes, the lower since the 2012-2013 season.

At the time, a report by the Canadian Drought Monitor noted that 67% of the Prairie region was either abnormally dry or facing drought, including 99% of the region’s agricultural landscape.

“We are seeing an increase in production impacts that are currently affecting farmers’ ability to produce food,” Smukler says. “And that’s only going to get harder as we go forward.”

Besides production, other factors contribute indirectly to price inflation.

The future of food policies

Sylvain Charlebois, researcher and professor of food distribution and food policy at Dalhousie University, says that with climate change, two things are happening: the agricultural industry is adapting and considering new technologies, and governments are implementing implement policies such as carbon taxes to discourage polluters.

Charlebois said such policy measures could actually drive up food prices.

“You have climate change impacting food prices, but also policies that mitigate the effects of climate change contributing to higher food prices,” Charlebois said in an interview with CTVNews.ca.

Adverse weather events also impact animal production. Charlebois says that last year, when the berries faced a massive drought, farmers had to travel south to get grain for their livestock over the winter because they couldn’t produce enough. And again right now, due to transportation bottlenecks and last year’s severe drought, Canadian farmers are saying they are running out of feed for livestock this year.

“It’s definitely a very complex problem to deal with because there are so many moving parts,” Smukler said.

He says we need to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, meet our commitments to the Paris Agreement and ensure that all countries do their part.

Smukler says the impact of climate change could be felt for generations.

“We have to learn to adapt to the changes that are upon us and those that are coming,” he says. “We need to be able to help our farmers develop strategies to deal with this kind of climate volatility.”

“We just got a taste of what’s to come,” Smukler said.

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