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A report to the Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative Climate Change Action Fund

R.D.H Cohen, C.D. Sykes, E.E. Wheaton and J.P. Stevens


An understanding of adaptation of plant and animal systems in response to changes in climate will help to reduce the risk involved in livestock production. Climate change will affect a large array of systems. Forage and livestock production will not be excluded from the impact of climate change. The purpose of this study was to understand the concept of adaptation and to integrate adaptive management strategies within the beef industry. A case study was undertaken at three locations to determine the impact of climate change as predicted by the CGCM1 model on livestock production. Three adaptation strategies were devised namely an early turnout date, intensive early season grazing and an extended grazing season. These were applied to simulation for the years 2051-2090. The results should only be considered as only an example of the possible responses to climate change.

A climate change scenario was created using the Canadian Climate Change model (GCM1) and integrated into the GrassGro Decision Support System (DSS). Three adaptation strategies were tested in comparison to a baseline simulation (1961-1990) for 2 pasture associations, Russian wildrye/alfalfa (RWR/ALF) and Crested Wheatgrass (CWG) at three locations Melfort, Saskatoon, Swift Current, Saskatchewan. Climate change predictions were simulated for the years 2051-2080.The effects of climate change on livestock production were complex and results were variable for each site. The effects were more prominent at Saskatoon than Melfort and Swift Current, reflecting strong regional specificity and variability.The adaptation strategies were more successful for RWR/ALF than for CWG pasture at Melfort and Swift Current while CWG appeared to be more successful at Saskatoon. Indeed, the results suggest that productivity of beef cattle grazing RWR/ALF pastures at Melfort and Swift Current could be enhanced with climate change. However, Russian wild ryegrass is slow and difficult to establish. Therefore one of the recommendations from this report calls for a greater research effort into the establishment problems of this grass.