Climate change is creating new opportunities for agriculture and forestry in Greenland. Initiatives within potato farming have raised discussions about the possibility that Greenland might once in the future become self-sufficient in certain food products.
According to The Agricultural Consulting Services, which is an advisor for Greenland’s activities in agriculture and forestry, 37 farms are registered with agriculture as a main source of income. In 2013 the lamb production was about 18.0000. Most of the farms are located in Southern Greenland, where the climate is milder and the conditions for growth are better than other areas in Greenland. A changing climate is already now affecting production in the area and is expected to create both opportunities and challenges 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 15thsession 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 pastures and 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.
The climate adaptation report, Opportunities for Climate Adaptation in the Agriculture from 2017, prepared on the behalf of the Minister for Nature and Environment in collaboration with the Minister for Independence, Foreign Affairs and Agriculture, describes several of these challenges and opportunities that the agricultural sector will be faced with in the future.
Upernaviarsuk Experimental Farm is the Greenlandic Government’s agricultural research and training center. The center conducts experiments on cultivating new crops and sheep farming. The farm is located in Southern Greenland near Qaqortoq. The center features a school, were students have the opportunity to be educated as a sheep farmer, greenhouse gardener or production gardener. At the center, 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 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.