Supporting Local Agricultural Planning and Adaptation in Alaska

Left Side Content
Funded Title: 
Applying Climate Change Modeling to Local Agricultural Planning and Adaptation in Alaska
a farm near mountains

Farm, Matanuska Valley, Alaska (public domain)

Jan 2019 to Dec 2019

Agriculture in Alaska is climate-limited. Factors such as low heat energy, short growing seasons, and cold winters prevent the survival of many crops. While considerable research has gone into assessing how to overcome some of these limitations, results suggest that climate change is already altering the equation, and will likely continue to do so. Some research suggests crop production for some varieties might advance northward in the state, leading to increases in yields and new varieties becoming viable. However, it’s also projected that water stress may become an increasing challenge facing farmers. Further, some crops, such as the burgeoning peony market, are dependent on Alaska’s cool climate and late summer season, and could be negatively impacted by warming temperatures.
Currently available tools are limited in their ability to help Alaska’s farmers adjust to climate change, because they primarily focus on the effects of extreme winter temperatures. However, additional variables, such as day length, thaw dates, freeze dates, growing season length, and occurrence of extreme heat may all affect whether a particular crop can be grown in a particular location. To better support Alaska’s small-scale growers, researchers will work with local farmers to first identify their immediate and long-term needs in relation to ongoing and potential future climate-related changes to crops. Next, researchers will develop fine-scale maps, tools, and datasets that meet these stakeholder-defined needs. This project will include the entire state of Alaska, but will emphasize areas where peony farming occurs. Commercial peony farming has experienced considerable growth in recent years, and it’s estimated that in 2017 growers grossed between $900,000 and $1.8 million in sales. Further, as a perennial, peonies are potentially affected by changes in weather that occur throughout the year.
Alaska’s high-latitude setting places it at the front lines of environmental change. In response, the State of Alaska has made it a priority to ensure that Alaskan communities and resource managers incorporate anticipated change into local and regional planning. The results of this project will provide the information needed to fine-tune climate-related agricultural guidelines in Alaska, now and in the future.