BC’s changing climate

The climate across BC’s farming communities is influenced by latitude, topography and proximity to the Pacific Ocean. The province’s diverse and often mountainous terrain means that precipitation and temperatures can vary considerably across regions, often within small areas.

Despite local variations, over the past century, the province has seen the following climate change trends:

  • Increasing average annual temperatures
  • Increasing annual precipitation and heavy rainfall events
  • Increasing dry conditions in the summer and more extreme heat
  • More frequent and severe wildfires

Projections provided by the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium (PCIC) show that the province can expect these trends to continue. To see projected climate changes for the 2050s and 2080s for the province and individual regions, explore PCIC’s Plan2Adapt tool.

Our Regional Adaptation pages describe how climate change is being felt differently throughout the province.

Adapting to climate change

On the farm, climate change increases production risks and costs, as well as the complexity of management and decision-making.

The BC Farm Practices & Climate Change Adaptation Summary Report identified a cross-section of farm practices from operations across BC. It looked at the potential of each practice to lower risk or increase resilience. Individual reports provide detailed evaluations of six selected practices.

This work led to the development of the Farm Adaptation Innovator Program.

Adaptive farm practices summary report

Beyond the farm level, climate change poses new challenges that require ongoing engagement and investment from producer associations, academia, the public and all levels of government.

For example, shifts in approaches to land management, infrastructure or economic models need the co-operation of many groups. Adaptation requires prioritizing agricultural production and more equally sharing the risks and costs taken on by producers and the industry.

Factors that impact the ability of agriculture to adapt can be grouped into five interrelated resource types:

  • Financial resources
  • Human and social resources
  • Knowledge resources
  • Physical resources
  • Policy and regulatory resources

The Adaptation Risk & Opportunity Assessment Series: Provincial Report describes each of these resource types in detail.

This work led to the development of the Regional Adaptation Program.

Risk and opportunity assessment provincial report

Projects increasing resilience

CAI works with partners across the province to implement projects to support the agriculture sector’s ability to adapt to climate change.

Most of those projects are focused at the farm or regional levels, and details can be found on individual region pages. A number of these projects have results or resources that can be used in regions with similar conditions and/or production systems.

Snapshot of BC’s agriculture sector

Agricultural land base and value

Less than 5% of BC’s land base is considered farmable. However, up to 15% has been estimated as having some agricultural potential. BC has a diverse range of soil types, reflective of its highly variable geology, climate and topography.

In 2016, 2.6 million hectares were used for agricultural production, less than 3% of the provincial land base. Some agricultural land is owned by producers, and other land is leased. Leased Crown (government) land is mostly used as range by the province’s cattle ranchers.

Much of BC’s farmland is close to growing communities, which puts pressure on the agricultural land base. This led to the creation, in the 1970s, of the Agricultural Land Reserve: a land use zone where agriculture is recognized as the most important use.

The proximity of farmland to communities has also led to high agricultural land values and prices. The average value of farmland and buildings in BC was $6,451 per acre in 2019, almost twice the Canadian average.

Farms and farm operators

In 2016, BC had over 17,500 farms producing over 200 products. Despite the diversity of products, certain regions have specialties, mostly due to historical or existing competitive advantages.

Although they range widely in size, more than 95% of BC’s farms are family businesses. BC has a high proportion of small farms: almost 67% are less than 70 acres. In 2016, 31% of BC farms were under 10 acres.

The demographic trends for Canadian farm operators show an aging population with a small group of young farmers entering the sector. BC’s trends are the most pronounced in the country, with 58% of farm operators age 55 or over and only 7% under 35.

Farm revenues

The agriculture sector in BC includes primary production from farmers, growers and ranchers. In 2019, it generated $3.9 billion in farm cash receipts.

Commodities with the largest revenues in 2019 included dairy, chickens, greenhouse vegetables, and floriculture, among others.

Primary agriculture also contributes substantially to the province’s food and beverage processing sector. In 2019, this sector generated over $10.5 billion in sales, including:

  • $1.9 billion in meat and poultry products
  • $1.6 billion in dairy products
  • $0.8 billion in animal food products
  • $0.7 billion in fruit and vegetable products