“Climate Change Is a Boon to Tourism in Iceland”

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The Story

Climate Change Is a Boon to Tourism in Iceland
by Virginia Gewin
The Atlantic, March 28, 2017

The Pitch

Iceland: where climate change is boosting agritourism

Over 2.2 million tourists—almost 7 times the country’s population—are flocking to Iceland for the rugged beauty, volcanoes, Northern Lights, and dairy products?

Agriculture is an unlikely, yet budding, lure to the remote Arctic island. Icelandic horses and sheep adorn tourism brochures, but Icelandic cows, brought over by Vikings 900 years ago, are the stars of the agri-tourism show—producing delectable dairy products, from butter to ice cream. Demand for skyr, the high protein yogurt popping up in high-end markets in the US, is skyrocketing.

To capitalize on the tourism boom—expected to continue for the next decade—farmers are exploring ways to bolster demand for local foods. And climate change is helping. Rising temperatures and precipitation open up new opportunities for farmers eager to plant alternative crops.

Once buried under the Eyjafjallajokull volcanic debris, the Thorvaldseyri farm is one of the few growing canola and barley, a crop once thought unthinkable above 60 degrees northern latitude. That barley is not only being used in local breweries but also as a higher quality cattle feed—which increases milk production.

These diverse, rare livestock breeds—from cows to sheep to horses—are a symbol of national pride in a world struggling to stave the loss of heritage breeds. “The entire country is one big gene bank,” says Olafur Dyrmundsson, the white-capped spokesman for the Farmers Association of Iceland. And Icelanders are learning how to cash in on that bank.

I’d like to write a story that will highlight how climate change is expanding agriculture—and agritourism—in the Arctic, and how those efforts promise to keep these rare breeds alive. The piece would be based on my visit to several farms while in Iceland in October for the Circumpolar Agriculture conference as well as the Arctic Circle meeting.

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