Spotlight on Research: Extreme weather farming

Extreme Weather Farming

MPhil research student Bernard Soubry has worked with small-scale farmers in Canada to forge a climate change 'battle-plan'.

Bernard Soubry has first-hand experience of how the weather can put food production and small farms at risk. In the winter of 2014-15 the East-Canadian province of Nova Scotia - and the small vegetable farm that he was then working on - was buried under 7ft of snow. "It just kept coming," he recounts. "We got our last snow on May 1st - that was exceptional".

At present, there is no climate change adaptation plan or policy for the food system in Canada which, Soubry says, makes the country's food system vulnerable. Wanting to do something to address agriculture's climate change challenge, Soubry applied for a Rhodes Scholarship to study an MPhil in Environmental Change and Management at the ECI.

Whilst studying, he learned first-hand from ECI food systems researchers about combining 'scenarios workshops' with 'visioning' and 'back-casting', to build strategic plans to safeguard food security. This new research method has been pioneered by the ECI's Dr Joorst Vervoort and Dr Ariella Helfgott, as part of the EU-funded TRANSMANGO project. It brings together people working within the food sector to identify where the system's weaknesses and strengths lie, areas of vulnerability and resilience, in the context of future change. From these workshops come explicit plans with tangible policy recommendations for governments.

Inspired by TRANSMANGO's methodology, Soubry decided to set up a similar project for his MPhil, focusing on small East-Canadian farms, to help them build resilience against potential 'shocks', such as extreme weather events (made more likely by climate change).

Bringing together a wide range of stakeholders who would not usually talk to each other - farmers, retailers and government officials from across all three Canadian Maritime provinces - Soubry facilitated a strategic planning exercise where a "battle-plan" for a resilient food-system future was collectively drawn up.

"Stakeholders from across the food sector began by envisioning an ideal food system." Soubry explains, "then they back-cast their way from that vision to the present day by presenting concrete actions and the actors responsible for them, creating a strategic plan for a sustainable food system in the Maritimes."

However, if we don't really know what the future is bringing, how can we make adaptation decisions now that will stand up to a whole range of possible shocks? Through the workshop it became apparent that increasing adaptive capacity, by strengthening the existing systems, is the best way to build resilience. Small-scale farms are agile to respond to change and hotbeds for creative adaptation techniques so, Soubry says, we should respect farmers' knowledge and support them to adapt, however they see fit.


"If necessity is the mother of invention, then climate change - which will make extreme weather events more likely - is the impetus for innovation on the farm."

Bernard Soubry, DPhil Research Student
School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford.


  • Rhodes Scholarship