The Distinction between Weather and Climate on the Farm

white clouds over brown field during daytime

Famers are seasoned weather trackers.

canda weather mapWe check forecasts almost as often as meteorologists, wondering what’s in store for our crops. From rainfall to dry spells and from hot days to cold snaps, the weather shapes what we do. We’re always on the lookout for the threats and opportunities that will help us grow the food, fuel and fibre that everyone needs.

I would argue that few care more than farmers about dealing with the real-world challenges of weather.

Weather variations affect our daily and weekly decisions: What’s the best time to plant so that seeds will germinate in good conditions? Should we use a fungicide tomorrow or next week?

We’re also thinking about seasonal choices: Are we in a drought or do we anticipate one? Will the summer bring us hot dry winds and less than friendly insects? How much hail do we expect to see this year?

In addition to these short-term and medium-term concerns, we’re thinking about the long term: How will our growing conditions shift over the course of our farming career and for the next generation?

So, while farmers have forever and always been preoccupied with the changing weather, the general public has now become obsessed with the subject of climate change. It’s one thing to claim concern for this topic of conversation but it’s another to start pointing the finger of blame. All too often, these conversations and debates treat farmers as foes, blaming us for contributing to the global challenge of increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

This is a mistake. Farmers are partners in this effort because mitigating changes in climate, which by definition is long term weather patterns, is what we do every day, every season, and every year.

You can’t farm here in green and black heavy equipment on brown field during daytimewithout seeing regular reminders of a changing climate.

At first glance, our land looks flat. It gives the appearance of an elevation that doesn’t rise or fall much. We’re in the northern reaches of North America’s Great Plains. As a matter of geography, plains cover about a third of the world’s land mass—and although the word “plain” comes from a Latin word that means “flat,” we also know that “plain” has become a synonym for “ordinary.”

But look closer, you’ll see there’s nothing ordinary about it.

Our farmland isn’t all flat, much of it is rolling, like waves on the ocean. It’s also dotted by boulders and rocks that hide just beneath the surface and rise up after frosty winters.

This is all a relic of climate change, and the result of glaciers that carved our landscape during the last ice age, about 25,000 years ago.

Nowadays, climate alarmists scream about a warming world rather than a cooling one. But instead of understanding that the climate is and always has been changing, much of the frantic public have begun to confuse weather with climate. Watch the news on any given night or if you dare… search up “climate change” on your laptop and you’ll likely see example after example of instances where harsh weather has been looped into the dramatic climate change narrative.

I spoke recently with Drew Lerner, a meteorologist with World Weather Inc. We subscribe to that service for our farm. He’s been in the business for 42 years and draws a distinction between “weather” and “climate”. Weather is a system that comes through, bringing precipitation, wind, heat, cold, and sometimes damage. Climate is the average of weather over about a 30 year period. He says while you can’t blame a storm on climate change, there is climate change and the earth is warming. For more on his thoughts, click here, starting at the 9:00 minute mark.

No two farmers are the same but the one thing we all have in common is our relationship with weather and our need to mitigate the risks that come with it. When I think back to my childhood and growing up on our family farm, I remember overhearing my parents and grandparents at the kitchen table whispering their worries about the weather. I’ve seen the black and white photos of my ancestors who immigrated to a whole new world of blowing winds and soil and destructive hail. In my own 25 year farming career I’ve seen flooding and drought. I’ve walked with hail adjustors to claim insurance and seeded fields in the spring with snow still caught in the tree rows. This relationship will never change. Our children too will hear us whispering (or perhaps yelling) our continued weather frustrations.

No matter what comes our way in terms of weather and climate, farmers will strive to adapt, as we always have done. We accept this and we are up for the challenge. We are friends of the earth not enemies.

Cherilyn Jolly Nagel

Cherilyn Jolly Nagel

Raised on the Saskatchewan prairies, Cherilyn Jolly-Nagel and her husband David continue their love for the land while growing grains, pulses, oilseed crops, along with two daughters in Mossbank. Elected as the first female President for the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, Cherilyn challenged government policies that affected the business of agriculture and is a leader on issues that impact farmers on grain transportation, governance, trade and public trust. As board member for the Global Farmer Network, Cherilyn advocates for strong global trade relations and for farmers use of technological advancements. In 2021, Cherilyn was recognized as one of Canada's Top 50 People of Influence in Agriculture. Cherilyn was interviewed in the documentary 'License to Farm' where she encouraged other farmers to share their stories with the public, was featured with Canadian Chef Michael Smith in a video to promote lentils and featured in an episode of Canadian Better Living on the topic of pesticide use and promotion of plant biotechnology. Invited by the Mattel Toy company, Cherilyn was a mentor in the 'Barbie: You Can Be Anything Mentorship' program for young girls who dream of being a farmer.

Leave a Reply