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There is potential for agriculture in Greenland

Global warming means that Greenland will have longer and warmer summers. This can pave the way for new possibilities for agriculture – but there is a lack of knowledge about all sorts of things ranging from optimal cultivation methods to good logistics solutions and sustainable energy consumption.   

2017.07.24 | Janne Hansen

Climate change can pave the way for new opportunities for agriculture in Greenland. Photo: Colourbox

Stately icebergs float quietly by in the cold water. On land, farmers dig potatoes, while sheep and their lambs graze in verdant spots among the rocks and boulders. Is this the future for a climate-changed Greenland? Crop and animal production?

Researchers from Aarhus University have looked into the matter at the request of the Government of Greenland and have recently published their findings in a report describing the potential for climate adaptation in Greenland’s agriculture.

The researchers point out that Greenland can expect to see longer and warmer growing seasons. This will benefit sheep farmers and other farmers in south Greenland. They will be able to grow grass for a longer period, which is important for their animal production. The more grass the more room there is for grazing animals. However, climate change will most likely bring on more frequent periods of drought and therefore it will be necessary to focus on irrigation systems and alternative fodder crops.  

A survey of possibilities and challenges

The researchers investigated a range of factors related to agriculture in Greenland. They looked at climate developments, soil conditions, crops, farm animals, sustainable energy, and sustainability. In several cases, the researchers pointed out that it is necessary to establish systematic registration of the conditions, as well as research activities and studies. These activities can help provide a better overview, create useful information and experience, and enable ongoing adaptation of the production systems to climatic growth conditions.

In order to clarify if former, abandoned sheep farming areas can be revived now that climate changes are potentially increasing the area that can be used for animal farming, the researchers recommend that analyses of resource use in reindeer farming and sheep farming, respectively, be carried out. The analyses should include costs in all production stages, including farm buildings, machines, feed, animal transportation and slaughtering.

Another area with potential is vegetable farming outdoors and in greenhouses, but this area also needs more analyses. There is a lack of knowledge with regard to cultivation, including methods and strategies for field irrigation, in that the first analyses of Greenlandic soils indicate that they are very hydrophobic and therefore cannot tolerate dehydration. The possibilities for producing vegetables in greenhouses strategically located in relation to towns, combined with the possibilities for using surplus heat and electricity from the energy sector should also be investigated.

There may also be potential in the development and supply of both existing and novel foods. There are possibilities for producing new types of foods in the region and there may be demand for them locally and in the rest of Greenland. Before that is set in motion there is a need for closer investigation of which Greenlandic-produced foods have the greatest potential, how they can be produced, and how local and national authorities can support a beneficial development. 

The logistics also need to be in order with regard to product supply as well as transportation of products and slaughter animals. The researchers therefore recommend analyses of how product transportation between sheep farms and from sheep farms to processing, including mobile abattoirs and consumers, can be optimised, how growing of vegetables on abandoned sheep farms can be done, and how use of renewable energy can be optimised throughout the whole sector.

The report was prepared by the Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University in collaboration with researchers from the Department of Environmental Science and the Department of Bioscience. It is the third in a series from the Government of Greenland studying the consequences of climate change. The first climate change report dealt with the hunting and fishing industries, and the second one was about shipping.

Read the report (in Danish) Muligheder for klimatilpasning i landbrugserhvervet – status og handlemuligheder.

For more information please contact:

Postdoc Jesper Overgård Lehmann, Department of Agroecology, email: jespero.lehmann@agro.au.dk, telephone: +45 8715 4776

Section leader Mogens H. Greve, Department of Agroecology, email: mogensh.greve@agro.au.dk, telephone: +45 8715 7748, mobile: 2072 6734


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