From what I understand, global warming will make growing food a lot harder in areas like the American Midwest because temperatures will become too high for most crops. At the same time, Arctic (and Antarctic) regions will heat up and permafrost will melt. Would areas like Alaska, Siberia, and northern Canada then become suitable for large-scale agriculture? And if so, would this be enough to make up for the lost production in warmer areas? Or are there other factors in those areas that would make farming impractical?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ the biggest problem for foodproduction is not the heat itself it is the change in climate. when it rains it rains more in a shorter time this leads to flooding and destruction of crops.and when it is dry it will be dry for a longer time the heat makes water evaporate before the plants can use it and the crops fail.so this is the real problem moving north/south dont change this. $\endgroup$ – trond hansen Sep 5 '17 at 19:13
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It's a great question but there's a ton of detail. Rain fall amount, frost, snow runoff and water supply (and flooding), Terrain and soil quality and depth. The US midwest has unusually good and plentiful soil. It may be the best farming region in the world. Despite climate change, we still get some very cold days when the Polar Vortex pushes south so frost would be a problem further north. I would think it's possible to a degree, but not close to the extent of the farm production in the Midwestern US. $\endgroup$ – userLTK Sep 6 '17 at 16:28
  • $\begingroup$ Re the lost production aspect, the answer seems quite obvious if you look at a globe rather than a Mercator projection. There is a lot less land area in the polar regions than one might think. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Oct 7 '17 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ Before it will happen in the Arctic, people will do it in the boreal region first, and in fact there is already people expanding agriculture and cutting down boreal forest. $\endgroup$ – y chung Mar 14 '20 at 19:26

The agricultural regions of Canada: enter image description here are located on suitable soil types: http://www.fao.org/ag/agp/agpc/doc/counprof/canada/pics/Figure%204b.jpg

Much of the unfarmed area is the Canadian Shield (shades of red below):

The current surface expression of the Shield is one of very thin soil lying on top of the bedrock, with many bare outcrops. This arrangement was caused by severe glaciation during the ice age, which covered the Shield and scraped the rock clean. The lowlands of the Canadian Shield have a very dense soil that is not suitable for forestation; it also contains many marshes and bogs (muskegs). The rest of the region has coarse soil that does not retain moisture well and is frozen with permafrost throughout the year.

I think the "coarse soil" is Glacial Till. enter image description here

This is melting permafrost. I don't think it will be suitable for agriculture. enter image description here

CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION AND CANADA’S CROPS AND FOOD SUPPLY (2013) (122 pages) discusses warming, precipitation, soils and other factors.

There is definitely potential for a northern expansion of agriculture as a result of changes in heat and moisture in [the western prairies], although most of these lands will remain only marginally suitable for farming because of poor soil conditions.

Edit:enter image description here An eroding coastline exposes permafrost along the Mackenzie Delta. Photo: Roger McLeod / Natural Resources Canada

High resolution version from Arctic tundra is 80 per cent permafrost. What happens when it thaws? - The Narwhal:

Edit, Oct., 2020:

Canada could be a huge climate change winner when it comes to farmland

enter image description here In this map from the study, areas that transition from no current suitability for major commodity crops to suitability for one or more crops are depicted in blue, while currently uncultivated areas that transition to suitability for multiple major commodity crops are shown in red. (Hannah et al, 2020)

KC acknowledged the study looked only at climate as a factor when determining where crops could be grown in the future, and didn't take into account things like soil quality.

Soil scientist David Burton of Dalhousie University, who wasn't involved in the study, says that could have a big impact on how much of the potential new farmland is actually arable. "The soils of Southern Canada have taken 10,000 years to develop," he said. "Rapid change wouldn't necessarily make soils in Northern Canada suitable for production."

Johanna Wandel, an associate professor of geography at the University of Waterloo who edited a book called Farming in a Changing Climate, agrees the soil in much of Canada would likely be unsuitable for growing crops, as it's too rocky or acidic.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ All things being equal, warming would improve agricultural production in the Arctic regions. But all things aren't equal; as you've noted, that's not exactly prime topsoil. Plus, it tends to be hundreds of miles away from existing infrastructure and thousands of miles away from the populations which will directly lose food productivity due to warming. $\endgroup$ – jeffronicus Sep 3 '17 at 4:56
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Would farmers be able to import soil from other places (like the regions that are now too hot to farm) and put it down there, or does soil not work that way? $\endgroup$ – sbl Sep 3 '17 at 17:34
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @sbl I estimate to move it thousands of miles by rail would cost several thousand $ per acre. That does not include scraping it up, moving it to and from the railway and spreading it. $\endgroup$ – Keith McClary Sep 4 '17 at 2:53
  • $\begingroup$ Showing a picture of permafrost and saying permafrost areas aren't suitable for agriculture isn't quite convincing. Here is another picture that doesn't support your unscientific answer: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permafrost#/media/… $\endgroup$ – Communisty Sep 4 '17 at 7:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Communisty They need a jackhammer because they are digging into frozen mud (or dirty ice) which can be many metres deep. But you have a good point. I guess some (flatter) regions might melt gradually without the catastrophic collapse in the picture. This can take a long time during which the surface will probably be unstable and cold. There should be places where the permafrost has fully melted since the last glaciation so we could see what the soil is like, but I don't know of any. $\endgroup$ – Keith McClary Sep 4 '17 at 17:29

It may be beneficial to look at what we know about agriculture during the Medieval Warm Period to start to get an answer to this question. During this time period, c950-c1250, there was an agricultural revolution in Europe and there is some evidence of barley being produced in Greenland by the Vikings.

enter image description here

Granted there may still be some debate about how warm the Medieval Warm Period was, especially in comparison to what many are expecting will happen in the future, but it does seem like there is a good deal of evidence that during the Medieval Period there was a good deal more agriculture occuring at higher latitudes. This doesn't necessarily answer whether or not the arctic areas will be suitable for large scale agriculture in the future, but if history is a guide, addition northern lattitudes with suitable soils will become more productive.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.