Agriculture and Forestry
Climate change is creating new opportunities for agriculture and forestry in Greenland. Experiments with potato farming and small-scale agriculture have given rise to discussions about the possibility that Greenland might once in the future become self-sufficient in certain food products. So far, agriculture and forestry remain limited and most of what is happening takes place on an experimental basis.
The Agricultural Consulting Services, which support many activities in the area of agriculture and forestry in Greenland, have 50 farms registered that operate with agriculture as a main source of income. The large majority of these are based on sheep farming which currently rely on around 50,000 sheep. Most of the farms are located in Southern Greenland, where the climate is milder and conditions for growth are better. A changing climate is already now affecting production in the area and is contributing to improving conditions for agriculture in Greenland.
A warmer climate implies a longer growth season and higher average temperatures during growth season. For sheep farming this means that periods of summer grazing are extended and grazing areas are expanded. For agricultural production, the improved conditions are resulting in a larger plant production and new opportunities for commercial production of potatoes and vegetables. This is reflected in the continued expansion of agricultural production among Greenlandic farmers over the past 20 years, made possible by an increasingly warm and mild climate.
In the same way, opportunities for forestry in Southern Greenland are improving. In 2009, during the 15th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Copenhagen, a Christmas tree was sailed from Southern Greenland to the Greenlandic Representation in Denmark as a symbol of the opportunities associated with climate change in Greenland. On research plantations, experiments are conducted into the growth of different imported tree species and it has been established that trees from coastal areas, especially pine trees, survive better than trees from more continental areas. This is due to the fact that pine trees possess a stronger resilience to the changeable weather, which is now seen reflected in further experiments.
It is also possible that a warmer climate will contribute to shifting the tree line northwards and expanding opportunities for agriculture further north. So far, only three farms are found in the area around Nuuk and Paamiut, and hence conditions are still restricted in this area.
… and challenges
A warmer climate also implies new challenges. Milder winters with more rain can lead to greater ice coverage, which can damage winter grazing fields. In addition, the last ten years have been characterised by an increasing frequency of summer drought, which limits possibilities of grass cultivation for hay and animal feed. Nevertheless, the Agricultural Consulting Services predict a positive net influence on agriculture and forestry from the aggregated influences of climate change.
Upernaviarsuk Experimental Farm
Upernaviarsuk is the Greenlandic Government’s agricultural school, which also functions as an experimental farm in which experiments are conducted into the cultivation of new crops and sheep farming. The farm is located in Southern Greenland near Qaqortoq and has approximately 15 students enrolled in three different educational programmes. At the experimental farm, work is done to cultivate wintering, perennial grasses, which can be used for hay and silage as well as for experiments with other annual forage crops. A warmer climate, as a result of a changing climate, will be a precondition for this to succeed. Experiments are also undertaken to make productive use of the enhanced heat radiation in greenhouses, where vegetables such as tomatoes, lettuce and broccoli can be grown.
The Greenlandic Arboretum
The Greenlandic Arboretum functions as an indicator of some of the opportunities that arise with a changing climate. The intention with the arboretum is to establish a collection of trees and bushes from the alpine and arctic tree line to conduct research into the opportunities for forestry in Greenland. The researchers involved with the Greenlandic Arboretum note that the trees are valuable climate indicators and can help to improve the understanding of the opportunities that are associated with a changing climate.