Vulnerability is not a new concept. It has been developed and applied by hazards, famine and health researchers and its application in climatic change and agriculture contexts has emerged in the last decade. The vulnerability assessment framework presented in this paper builds upon this foundation and is based on the premise that vulnerability exists in all socio-economic systems and stresses such as drought and globalisation unveil these pre-existing vulnerabilities. Hence, assessments of the vulnerability of farming systems must consider not only changes to the environment and exposure to environmental stresses but also factors in societal changes and the capacity of farms to cope with and if necessary adapt to environmental change. The application of this vulnerability assessment framework reveals current and future vulnerabilities of some farms in central Canada are generated by the convergence of many factors. Of particular concern is a broad set of factors that cumulatively have contributed to an overall decline in agriculture's importance within society. This is expressed in many different ways ranging from the encroachment of urban activities into the countryside to the development of environmental regulations which are not fully sensitive to modern farming practices. The central Canada case study also reinforces findings from earlier work which suggests vulnerability assessments must consider exposure to stress relative to coping capacity. For some of the major types of farming in central Canada, future vulnerabilities are tied more closely to societal changes which were impinging upon their capacities to cope with and respond to stresses rather than exposure to the stress itself. This does not suggest that vulnerabilities of other farm types in central Canada or farming outside the region would similarly be linked more closely to constraints on coping capacity but it does illustrate that vulnerability assessments must be based upon comparisons of exposure to multiple stresses that are prevalent in the region as well as the coping capacity of farming enterprises.

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Department of Geography and Environmental Studies

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