I live in southern California, where the difference between seasons is mild, and the dominant limitation on agriculture is the lack of water. (Spring is whenever it rains, not a place on the calendar.)

In my early education, as is usual, I learned the growing season is shorter in more northern latitudes. The natural deduction is to expect less effective agriculture, further north.

Recently, I spent a week in early April in Vancouver (Canada). The weather was very (very!) nice, much warmer than I expected, and the hours of daylight longer. On reflection, all this was obvious ... but I was surprised at the time.

Northern latitudes may have shorter growing seasons, but the hours of daylight during that season are much(!) longer. What is the potential agricultural productivity of more northern latitudes?

Much of the past century of agricultural research was centered on the American mid-west. How much is possible if we further optimize agriculture for more northern latitudes, and higher levels of technology?

As the Earth warms, large expenses of Russia and Canada will thaw. Seedlings started early in artificially warmed and lit greenhouses could jump-start crops. (Or transported from more southern latitudes.) If we took full advantage of the longer hours of daylight in northern growing seasons ... what is the limit to agriculture?

With global warming, could Canada and Russia become the bread-basket of the world? Can agriculture as a technology be adapted to more northern latitudes, and take best advantage of a shorter season with longer daylight?

(In imagination, I see seedlings started in greenhouses, and robot-planters placing seedlings in just-warm fields, to capture every hour and day of longer sunlight.)

Do we know how to best take advantage of long northern days for agriculture?

  • $\begingroup$ The days may be longer but the light is much less intense, hence why it is colder. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Apr 16 '17 at 2:51
  • $\begingroup$ Is it really much less intense? What does the longer hours of daylight do to plant growth? Are plants only responsive to total cumulative energy from the sun? Vancouver in early April was not colder than southern California ... so, what is the sum? $\endgroup$ – Preston L. Bannister May 16 '17 at 23:40

I know this response is coming a bit late but in case you're still curious I have a response!

I'm a M.Sc. student working in Agricultural entomology in Northern Canada (between 55 and 59 degrees North). You are correct, up at more Northern latitudes our short growing season mainly limits what crops we can grow, but less so our yield. We are also restricted in where we can farm by soil conditions as the further north you go the more you are on the Canadian Shield - so less fertile. If you look at growing regions in Northern Alberta, North West territories, etc. you'll see that they tend to stick fairly close to rivers. Further south in Canada, moisture conditions play a much bigger role in determining yield. Mainly we stick to crop species and cultivars that can produce a good yield in a short time - canola, wheat, barley, peas (although corn and soybeans have some large acreages in the Eastern prairies and Ontario).

Climate wise, the comment about light intensity is not really accurate in the summer. The longer daylength definitely compensates for any differences in light intensity. Even at 59 degrees latitude it can get well into the 30's (Celcius) in the summer.

Canada already produces a large amount of wheat and canola, we are the 6th largest exporter of wheat according to a quick google search. So I would argue that while Canada may not be the bread basket of the world it is pretty close already.

It's tough to say how climate change will affect agriculture, because it's really tough to determine how climate change will affect local climate. The changes to weather patterns (changes in amount and timing of rain and moisture, changes in spring or fall frost timing) will have a large impact on agricultural outputs.

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    $\begingroup$ Ag Canada actually has a nice little description of ways that climate change is predicted to affect Canadian agriculture! agr.gc.ca/eng/science-and-innovation/agricultural-practices/… $\endgroup$ – Amanda Nov 24 '17 at 15:32
  • $\begingroup$ Understand you are more focused on insects, but still curious about specialization of plants (crops) to the shorter growing season. The varieties developed for more southern (central US) latitudes are probably not optimal. Also, increasing automation (smarter/cheaper machines) means crops could be jump-started in greenhouses (or warmer latitudes) and placed in northern fields when temperatures permit. Curious about the state of research for the above. :) $\endgroup$ – Preston L. Bannister Nov 26 '17 at 1:50

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