Can Organic Feed the World?

organicdan(z5b Nova Scotia)November 14, 2009

Or should the question be, "Can conventional feed the world?"

The green revolution heralded the arrival of chemical fertilizers and the meriad of chemicals to combat weeds, pest and diseases. The big push was on for bigger and greater yields. Advances in shipping and globalization led to variety improvements designed to improve shippability, handling and storage.

All the while, important nutrient content declined. Malnutrition deminished immune systems leading to increased illness, disease and other health problems. Besides the loss of vitamins and essential trace elements, our bodies are storing toxic chemicals.

Some of the earliest realization came in the early 1900s during wars as nearly 50% of enrolling military were refused because of unfittness. No study was done to determine the cause although there were voices pointing towards poor diet. With this nutritional decline fully realized today, there is still the deep-pocketed voices of denial.

Read "Sharp Decline of Nutrients in Our Food" at:

http://www.truehealth.org/ahealn31.html

Organic is the closest you will get to 'hunter and gatherer' as it fosters natural cycles which enable plants to obtain all the nutrients essential to feeding the food chain. You have a healthy choice.

Add your voice to the call for a change!!

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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Since several studies have shown that an organic farm can produce higher yields than a "conventional" farm the answer is yes.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2009 at 7:54AM
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Lloyd

Okay Dan, I read it and I find this in the article:

"the biggest nutritional problem is that most Canadians do not eat anywhere near the recommended five to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily."

I also notice that article doesn't get into the processed versus fresh aspect. When food is processed, a lot of things are done to it. Often fruits are peeled, sodium and other preservatives are added etc etc. Sometimes it isn't the way it's grown that lowered the nutrition and to blame poor health on a single factor is myopic and suggests bias to me.

It's much more complex than just organic versus conventional.

And as far as producing higher yields, many organic farms also have higher labor input and obtain a premium price for their product to compensate for that.

Someone do a little exercise for me. Add up all the hours spent in a garden and calculate the labor costs for that. Then take that cost (and all the others seed/seedlings, equipment, land taxes, watering etc) and figure out what price you would have to sell that produce for to:

A) Get your costs back and,
B) Make a profit.

And before I get accused of working for Monsanto (again), I strongly suspect organic is much much better but I am also a realist. If a consumer walks into a store and sees a bag of carrots for $2 and an organic bag of carrots for $3, which is he/she going to choose most often?

Lloyd

    Bookmark   November 14, 2009 at 8:42AM
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organicdan(z5b Nova Scotia)

Recommended servings are misleading. With nutrient deficiencies of conventional foods you need consume 5 oranges to obtain the specified level of vitamin A. Most critical are the abscence of trace elements.

Processed food are the prominent threat with any nutrients stripped and all the artificial additives. So few people give time to preparing a meal from scratch ingredients; most of which come from the conventional production.

It is a question of awareness. The marketing efforts by processors sure cloud the mind. The big money also influences the research that would identify the shortfalls.

It is not the issue of cost but nutritional value. If there was a general transition to organic then prices would drop. The problem then relates back to the farmer getting a fair share in return to make the farm business sustainable.

The labour aspect is tied closely to scale but also influenced by management practices. The weeds, pests and diseases problems are related to agroeconomic impact and the appeal of less than perfect appearance. It has its roots in sustainability and complete nutrient content in our foods for our health and environment.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2009 at 9:40AM
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Dan Staley

You'll have to find a huge labor pool somewhere if you are going to drop industrial ag, as the trend has been to drive farms into greater debt to meet economies of scale, and this drives folk off the farm.

IMHO organic yields are comparable when...um...comparing apples to apples. But the labor inputs are far higher. Maybe our changing economy will allow folk to return to the land, but not until events require it (IMHO)

2

Dan

    Bookmark   November 14, 2009 at 2:36PM
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Michael

Surely the organic movement can learn something from the Middle East oil cartel. They have been able to raise the price of their product greatly over the past 30 years and everybody is still dying for more. I am not being flippant. These guys have mastered the art of manipulating the world oil market all the while keeping a bunch of junkies hooked around the world on their oil.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2009 at 2:37PM
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Lloyd

The proverbial other side of the coin.

Lloyd

    Bookmark   November 14, 2009 at 6:01PM
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gjcore(zone 5 Aurora Co)

Lloyd said

"Someone do a little exercise for me. Add up all the hours spent in a garden and calculate the labor costs for that. Then take that cost (and all the others seed/seedlings, equipment, land taxes, watering etc) and figure out what price you would have to sell that produce for to:

A) Get your costs back and,
B) Make a profit."

That would take a year of logging to figure out the costs of the food that I grow. Maybe someday I'll give it a try but I know for sure that most of the things that I grow in my vegetable garden could be purchased cheaper at the grocery store. How could I compete against 50 cents for parsley or 25 cents for an ear of corn. For sure though it seems there are somethings like tomatoes, zucchini and string beans that are cheaper to grow than to buy. But my tools are basicly a couple shovels, a hoe, a rake.wheelbarrow and a pitchfork

    Bookmark   November 14, 2009 at 8:36PM
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organicdan(z5b Nova Scotia)

The labour of the small and medium scaled farmer and his helpers still remains an underpaid profession. The big factory farms are part of the problem since most are run by processors. The days of the locally own store is fast becoming the chain store who only buy from the huge suppliers. As they squeeze out the smaller farms they grab the market share. The day will come when prices will rise when only the big farms remain who will dictate prices. The day will also come when the soils and waters will no longer support life.

Without the cheap food and fiber, factories will close. Our food security is threatened. The time is fast approaching. We can react now to change our direction.

More of our farmers are leaving the land. That land lies out of production with many trying to sell it to land developers for subdivisions. Working the land is no longer a paying venture. Our local processors are closing due to centralization or low import prices. Our infrastructure and ability to feed local is going to the big business in centralized locations.

Look at the history of collapsed civilizations and grasp that agricultural failure was the lead cause. Unless we abandom the chemicals for a naturally sustainable agriculture we are destined to join the failed cultures of history.

Another side of the coin is the localization of supply. If a large farm suffers a crop loss it will affect the global market. One drought, one flood, one pest or disease, and we all get hurt.

Look at the ancient civlizations of China and India who are now being pressured by big business to adapt to chemical production. Try to picture the additional contribution to contamination of our environment.

Look at the corporate bought laws that are limiting the ability to save seeds. Soon we shall only get seeds by contract. Google 'seed saving laws' to see intial results. The allowance of patents of lifeforms in any guise is only another push to corporate control of our food.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2009 at 7:50AM
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pnbrown

Dan, yes there is no doubt in my mind that 'organic' can feed the world. As it is currently practiced with making and trucking pelletized organic fertilizer - probably not.

Organic only works in it's proper 'wholistic' context. There have to be enough workers and consumers concentrated in an area. The entire problem is that the consumers are divorced from the process, and everyone is divorced from their effluent which is needed to solve the nitrogen shortage. Lloyd is correct, organic ag as it is now will not work to feed north america as it is now. Both have to change.

Change in that way is most definitely not going to occur in places where one farmer works hundreds or thousands of acres. There the trend is inexorably toward decline. The new system will develop, somewhat paradoxically, where land is expensive and populations are fairly high. In such places there is far more labor, obviously, and even some people who find it interesting to work the land. There are the retail markets at hand, which is critical. Lots of potential fertilizer. Often, there is much suitable land preserved by various agencies. I think the new system will develop (and is developing now) in many such places, without authoritarianism.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2009 at 8:29AM
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Dan Staley

Lloyd, your 'other side of the coin' link was to The American Council on Science and Health, where Dennis Avery and Henry Miller is/was on the Board.

That's all you need to know right there.

HTH.

Dan

    Bookmark   November 15, 2009 at 12:26PM
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Lloyd

Okay so there are extremists on both sides of the coin that shill for economic gain. It doesn't mean that either (or both) are completely right or wrong.

Is there a black and white truth and if so, where does it lie?

Believe me when I tell you that my grade 11 education is no where near sufficient to answer that.

I know healthy people that live on store bought conventional foods and I know unhealthy people that eat organics. I know smokers that lived til 92 and I know non-smokers that died at 25.

Obviously there are more things involved than this single issue. And I'll say it again, it's much more complex than just organic versus conventional.

Lloyd

    Bookmark   November 15, 2009 at 1:13PM
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pnbrown

If you are talking about human health, then absolutely true. There's lots of exceptions. You will find though, that averages rule. The average smoker does not live to 92. The average north-american diet is really terrible, with predictable results for average health.

Not sure this segue has much to do with the OP.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2009 at 2:42PM
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Lloyd

Ya, sorry 'bout that. That crash you heard was my train of thought being derailed.

I was going down the path that organic food is said to be better for a person and lead them to a more healthy life. The path ended but I just kept right on walking. :-)

Lloyd

    Bookmark   November 15, 2009 at 5:20PM
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keepitlow(6)

As it strands now, I'd say NO, it is a pipe dream.

As Dan brought up, if tons more people grew food, then it would be maybe.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2009 at 6:51PM
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jonas302(central mn 4)

hmmm doesn't really add up does it the world is extremly unhealty from fertilizer but life span has consistently gone up

50 percent were turned down to jon the service in the early 1900s what megachain farm were these people getting there food from? way I remember history we didn't have tractors letalone fertilizer back then also seem to remember some pretty major wars back then....

Sure organic is nice for those that grow there own or can afford to pay premium price I think its great why cloud it with this nonsense

    Bookmark   November 15, 2009 at 8:05PM
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Michael

Dan: Rome did not collapse due to a lack of food, rather an excess of bad governance, but hey, what a run it had!

Michael

    Bookmark   November 15, 2009 at 8:40PM
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gjcore(zone 5 Aurora Co)

jonas302 said

"hmmm doesn't really add up does it the world is extremly unhealty from fertilizer but life span has consistently gone up"

Lifespan has definitely gone up in the last 100 years but alot of that is due to a huge decrease in infant and child mortality and a big decrease in work related death both of which are good things.

Then there is also quality of life issues at the end years for many in the modern world.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2009 at 12:27AM
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Lloyd

Can Organic Feed the World a town?

Okay, this is driving me nuts, I'm laying awake at night thinking about this subject.

What if I could capture some of the organic household waste from town that is currently being landfilled and compost it instead. This compost could then be distributed to the several market garden producers in exchange for part of their production. They wouldn't have to put out the $$ for the compost and I'd save money on my food bills. There would also be some income from the landfill fees that would no longer be necessary and there are specific government funds available for waste diversion activities.

The town is close, the market gardens are from 1-5 miles away, I have the space and equipment, the waste is already being picked up.

It would require the people in town to source seperate the materials but surely that can't be a huge issue. What else am I missing? Why couldn't it work?

I don't grow a garden myself but why should that prevent me from supplying the compost to those that do and also have the knowledge and expertise to make the best use of it.

Would this be this doable?

Lloyd

    Bookmark   November 16, 2009 at 9:44AM
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organicdan(z5b Nova Scotia)

Lloyd, You hit on one of the prominent movements towards 'Buy Local' as well as a revolution in waste management.

We do have compostable pick-up as part of our sorted waste management. Of course little of ours makes it to the roadside since I have four bins in the back yard. But some of the materials unsuited to home composting are put into the green cart. The municipality looks after the household composting. The larger retail and processing compostables are delivered to a local private composting business by dedicated pick-up.

There are many examples around the world of village, town and city efforts to separate agriculturally useable wastes. It is an important return of the nutrients removed from the soil in harvests. Urban areas do need to manage their wastes and the compost segment returning to the farms is the best option.

Sustainability does start at home.

Dan

    Bookmark   November 16, 2009 at 10:31AM
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pnbrown

Organic household waste that most folks could separate in the kitchen but won't. The unwillingness is what starts at home.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2009 at 2:19PM
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gjcore(zone 5 Aurora Co)

I'm not sure how it could steadily enforced but it seems to me with the shortage of landfill space that towns, cities and counties should pass ordinances that the landfills no longer accept yard waste. In theory that could create a huge stream of compostables.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2009 at 7:20PM
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jonas302(central mn 4)

Yes Gjcore that is a real world idea and very practical many states do ban disposal of yard waste at the landfill to bad they all don't yet

    Bookmark   November 16, 2009 at 10:21PM
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justaguy2(5)

I'm not sure how it could steadily enforced but it seems to me with the shortage of landfill space that towns, cities and counties should pass ordinances that the landfills no longer accept yard waste. In theory that could create a huge stream of compostables.

It's the practice in the town I live in and has been since I moved here 7 years ago. It's hardly a progressive town either. Residents can put yard waste at the curb in the fall, but crews take it to the compost and mulch center.

The compost and mulch are free for residents to pick up.

I had thought pretty much everywhere was doing this by now.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2009 at 12:19AM
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pnbrown

Yes, I think that is standard practice now and it's an important improvement. Kitchen waste is pretty minor in comparison but it's what makes household 'garbage' so vile.....

    Bookmark   November 17, 2009 at 7:28AM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

It's true that a lot of potential waste is....well wasted. Still, it might be difficult to get Americans to do otherwise.

One problem is the "contamination" issue. Americans are used to.....gurgle, gurgle and down the drain...."out of sight and out of mind." Even when sewage sludge is uh reconstituted or something, there is still concern about heavy metals, chemicals, antibiotics, etc.

The leaf composting operation in my neighborhood is making some mighty fine looking compost. Still, upon closer examination I found about 10 to 15%[no kidding] of small rocks in it. The manager said that stone was scooped up from the dumping lane. Well, that would be a lot of stone.........tons and tons. I think that some of the stone comes from vacuum leaf pickup and wonder how it would get any better.

Also I quizzed the manager concerning any grass additions to the mainly leaves. Ny concern was if there were any persistant herbicide residuals. There have been problems a few years ago anyway with that.

He mentioned one person asking about black walnut leaves. My experience on that is that the black walnut leaves start falling quite early and never much at one time. So I could not come up with any to speak of at regular leafing time. They get mowed up in grass earlier.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2009 at 7:47PM
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idaho_gardener

Regarding the amount of labor required (and the supposed lack of local people willing to do the work) to grow and harvest crops; I call bullcrap on the claim that there is a need to use migrant workers.

When I was in primary school (in the 60's) in suburban New York, my siblings and I worked picking tomatoes. The farmer who hired us was delighted to have us doing the work. We kids thought we were well paid, and some kids made enough to buy cars.

I have a friend, Doris, who was raised by her grandparents on orchards in Oregon. Doris would tell me stories about harvest time. The women of the town would help by preparing meals and the local people would help with the harvest. Sounds like a wonderful, community building activity; townspeople spend time with each other and the money paid stays in the local economy. Then Doris quietly told me about an uncle who hid migrant workers on his farm.

Obviously, the consequence of migrant workers is to undercut the labor rates.

Regarding the cost of food; it is well established that the cost of food at the grocery store is only slightly effected by the cost of crops. Most of the cost of food is incurred by processing, shipping and handling, and store mark-ups. A USDA publication shows that a 12% increase in the cost of labor would have a less-than-one-percent impact on the cost of food.

So, what we're seeing is the 'WalMarting' of labor rates. This outsourcing of labor helps farmers lower their costs, but it has no effect on food costs.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2009 at 3:49PM
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pnbrown

It's not merely migrant workers who undercut farm labor rates, it's immigrant labor in general that undercuts all kinds of semi-skilled labor. The reason for both is that the laborers are generally allowed to live in crowded and squalid conditions which non-migrants and non-immigrants are generally not.

If such labor was required to live up to local standards, they would have to recieve much higher pay which the employers would not give. Then the laborers would not come and the employers would have to hire locals for more than they pay now but less than they'd have to pay immigrants to live decently here and send money home.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2009 at 5:37PM
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Dan Staley

Migration happens all over the world. You can't stop it. You can't stop companies wanting to make profit by using the cheapest labor available either.

AS for the 'buy local' movement, this is being shown as not helpful for sustainability under the current model - everybody driving their truck to one place is way more intensive (when measuring calories and time. One of the groups around here is trying to get one truck to do the pickup & deliveries for the CSAs and expanding the model to farmers markets.

This all comes down to: we've been propped up by cheap energy for a while now. We see the end coming and how do we cope? Me, personally, I don't see how we maintain our current levels without a lot of people laboring on the farm, unless we save fossil fuel for food and figure out how to do something else for transport.

Dan

    Bookmark   November 20, 2009 at 8:07AM
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organicdan(z5b Nova Scotia)

The proponents of conventional are certainly not looking at the 'whole' picture. Our waters are increasingly polluted, our air is near saturation with pollutants and species diversity is declining.

Just looking at health of people and our livestock shows increasing malnutrition, increase in disease and increase in birth defects. There is no acceptance of the cause as simply the quality of what we grow in the soil. The 'fix' is always more chemicals, more drugs and new artificial nutrients to replace the absent natural sources.

What and how we grow determines our health. The other creatures of the food chain all have a role, removing even one creates a weak link. Plants do not provide just on NPK. Those nutrients/minerals analyzed in soil and plant samples are not the only nutrients essential to life.

Plants are the beginning of the food chain and must provide for all life. Any return to natural systems must escape the reliance on chemicals and artificials.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2009 at 9:28AM
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Lloyd

The proponents of "nothing but organic" for everything are certainly not looking at the 'whole' picture.

Millions of acres of farmland produce the crops that feed the people on the Earth using 'cides and synthetic fertilizers. How can human labor replace herbicides on this scale?

Take 2000 acres of corn, how many employees would it take to weed all that by hand? Also consider that with weather issues, one might not be able to weed every day so those employees are now not doing much while they wait for the weather to improve. Now factor that into the total number of acres seeded to corn in just the U.S. Now take that and factor it into all the crops grown on large scales, wheat, barley, rye, cotton, soybeans, etc. etc. Then consider that many of these fields are no where near a population center for a source of labor so transportation costs to and from the fields or housing costs near them have to be thrown in.

That is just part of the big picture.

A potatoe farmer trying to keep them pesky beetles from devouring his crops. How many employees would he need to pick them all off by hand? That's how my father did it in his garden. But 40 acres versus 40 plants, do the math.

Small scale stuff (5-10 acres plots) around a city growing a few rows of onions, peas, beans, potatoes and other garden crops, fine but look at the big picture.

I have 5 acres of fruit trees. I can control the weeds with about $1000 of herbicide applied every two years so $500 per year.

If I hire students to weed by hand (and I have) at $10/hour working 4 hour days at 5 days per week that would be $200 per week for about 16 weeks so $3200 per year.

Selling 1000 pails of fruit per season means I'd have to charge more than a $2.50/pail extra to cover just the labor. Now add in all the taxes I have to pay as an employer and those extra costs have to be added to the cost of the produce.

That is only a tiny part of the big picture.

It would be nice to be all organic, but I'm a realist, something would have to give.

Now I'm heading out to rip open bags of leaves to be used as fertilizer on a 20 acre field.

Lloyd

    Bookmark   November 20, 2009 at 1:39PM
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Lloyd

Compost use significantly increases crop yields in Tigray, Ethiopia

Please read it carefully with an open mind. I read it three times.

Lloyd

    Bookmark   November 22, 2009 at 8:18AM
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gargwarb

I'm a big fan of compost and all, but it's tough to get anything of value out of that study other than "Some compost and/or fertilizer applied at some rate is better than nothing at all." There wasn't much info in that article concerning the type of compost that was used, what types of fertilizer were applied or at what rates either material was applied. So.....I did a little digging and found a more complete discussion here.

Here's the part that pulls the teeth right out of the whole thing:

The amount of compost applied ranged from the equivalent of 5 to 15 tonnes per hectare. It was assumed that farmers had applied the recommended rates of urea and DAP, i.e. 120 kg/ha.

It's tough to really get a bead on what happened because nobody really knows how much compost was applied. They can take a guess for any one spot, but they may be off by 300%.

They also say that they assume that fertilizers were applied at the recommended rates. They assume?!? How the heck can you draw any sort of conclusion when one of the most pivotal variables is, quite literally, a wild guess? Did they or didn't they? Was the fertilizer so expensive that it was actually used far too sparingly and crops yields would have been much higher if they'd used a little more? Was it provided free to the growers and they dumped it out there at a ridiculous rates based on the "more is better" principal, resulting in salinity issues? In that case using less would be likely to greatly increased yields.
What about the timing of fertilizer and compost applications? Was that done properly? That's important, but they never say?

It also looks like straw and manure were the most likely feed stocks for the compost in the study (though in a mind boggling twist, they never say whether or not that's the case). Was the compost mature? What if they didn't use enough manure and the C:N ratio was such that the compost was a nitrogen draw and a little more manure would have caused the compost yields to shoot through the roof?

Again, all you can get out of it is "Adding something is better than adding nothing.", which is already well established.

There is no way that anyone could point to this study and say conclusively that compost works better than synthetics or vice versa. This study is just a big block of Swiss cheese.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2009 at 9:25AM
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rdak(z5MI)

No, but we can lessen the blow by usng organics for our own purposes IMHO.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2009 at 10:08AM
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paulns(NS zone 6a)

"Take 2000 acres of corn..." You offer some unconvincing examples Lloyd. Take crops used to grow meat and to bulk up and sweeten processed/junk foods out of the equation and things start looking up.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2009 at 10:33AM
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gargwarb

Okay, instead of saying "2000 acres of corn", say "2000 acres of wheat" or "2000 acres of soy".
There. It works again as if by freakin' magic.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2009 at 10:53AM
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pnbrown

Munching on some ground-hominy spoonbread as I read this; such melodic and developing flavors.....

Why can't we put this issue to bed? To grow food for huge numbers (or small numbers, for that matter)'organically', or more importantly, 'wholistically", requires that the crops, laborers, processors and eaters all be fairly close together. It's that simple. Otherwise Lloyd's objections are valid.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2009 at 11:43AM
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valerie_ru(Russia)

Can Organic Feed the World?

Stupid question!

Whome you want to feed?
The more you feed them, the more they multiply!

Eventually, I think, you want to feed yourselves!
Is there any limit to be full up?

    Bookmark   November 22, 2009 at 1:41PM
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paulns(NS zone 6a)

Looked at another way: given a 100'x2' space, and the same skills, seed, resources and strength, but no fossil fuels, I'd wager that a ten-year-old could grow themselves a staple crop of potatoes, even organic ones; or enough corn, soybeans, wheat or other grain to make roughly a tin of muffins.
Two 10 year old gardeners in a race and you'd have some reality tv I'd actually watch. :)

    Bookmark   November 22, 2009 at 3:16PM
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Lloyd

People stopped eating corn?!
People stopped eating meat?!
People stopped eating junk food?!

I must have missed the memo on that. :-)

Looyd

    Bookmark   November 22, 2009 at 3:33PM
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valerie_ru(Russia)

Why are you so bother about people?
Are they ALL so wonderful creatures?
Do you think so?

Americans already fed Afgan's people..

Do you want to feed them more?

    Bookmark   November 22, 2009 at 4:02PM
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gargwarb

Why are you so bother about people?
Are they ALL so wonderful creatures?

Well, actually yes.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2009 at 4:15PM
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valerie_ru(Russia)

Actually, yes - in prisons (where americans torture these wonderful creatures).

    Bookmark   November 22, 2009 at 4:35PM
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Michael

Which Americans Valerie, how is this torture conducted, by whom and where?

Enlighten me please.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2009 at 10:14PM
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Lloyd

Not being a statitician I am not going to argue the methodology but the two lines that says a lot for me are...

"A reflection of the success of this approach is that between 2003 and 2006, grain yield for the Region almost doubled from 714 to 1,354 thousand tonnes. Since 1998, there has also been a steady decrease in the use of chemical fertilizer from 13.7 to 8.2 thousand tonnes."

Yields are up, synthetic fertilizer use is down. Matches what I got on my fields this year.

Good enough for me.

Lloyd

    Bookmark   November 22, 2009 at 10:59PM
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valerie_ru(Russia)

Which Americans Valerie, how is this torture conducted, by whom and where?

Prison Guantanamo in Cuba, where afganistan's terrorists (Al Caeda) are located. Other example - Iraq.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2009 at 2:35AM
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Lloyd

At the risk of the pot calling the kettle black, that's getting waaaayyyy off topic folks.

You might want to take it over to the Hot Topics forum.

Lloyd

    Bookmark   November 23, 2009 at 3:14AM
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valerie_ru(Russia)

OK, Lloyd.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2009 at 3:50AM
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Michael

Sorry Lloyd, et al, couldn't resist.

Michael

    Bookmark   November 24, 2009 at 2:38PM
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borderbarb

Loyd -- I read the link you provided -- Compost use significantly increases crop yields in Tigray, Ethiopia -- I didn't see any mention of human fertilizer used in the compost. Use of "Night Soil" is routinely accepted in most 3rd-world nations, along with the viral infections and death rates that often accompany these uses. Some mention was made in this discussion about the reasons for increased life-span in the US. Hygenic disposal of human waste surely must take its place among scientific and medical advances on the plus side. On the negative side is the ho-hum attitude of our population to preventative measures -- and that DOES include protecting the irreplaceable asset of healthy soils. The old joke about Hillbillies moving into a modern home and not knowing how to use indoor plumbing reminds me of the attitudes of far too many in postions of trust and leadership. The humorous misuses of plumbing by the Hillbillies has nothing on the misuse of the elements that make our current quality of life [including license recast as freedom] which is based upon things that most are as ignorant of as those Hillbillies. sorry for the rant. BTW did you see the story in toaday's news about the large percent of young men who are not fit for military service? [partly due to physical health, and lack of education needed plus criminal records]

    Bookmark   November 24, 2009 at 3:49PM
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organicdan(z5b Nova Scotia)

Barb, The nightsoil has been used in China for thousands of years. Properly used it is as safe as any manure. I also caught your today's news item about 'not fit for military service. It is documented from about the mid-1800s of being associated with poor nutrition. We are really seeing more of the malnutrition results in this current time with the profusion of chemicals in our conventional agriculture combined with hybrid development at the cost of nutrition.

The realization of the organic matter importance leads me to believe that organic (in any name) will be forced on us. The chemicals alone are not giving us the total nutrients essential for life and health. We are exhausting our soils when there are no new soils to pillage. It is an historic cycle of working a soil until depleted and moving into virgin territory; look at past civilizations which collapsed due to agriculutral failure.

The plowing (moldboard) is a prime destroyer of soils. Turning topsoil under to 10-12" several times per year in fact buries the soil web. There is nothing left of the topsoil thus the need to fertilize and irrigate. A good topsoil replete with active and stable organic matter will lessen the need for fertilizers, retain more surface moisture and provide healthy plant less prone to disease, pests and stress. The disc harrow is much better for surface incorporation of organic matter. Weeds can be outcompeted by healthy crops and rotations. Soil with good (5-6%) organic matter will improve moisture drainage and retention allowing earlier spring access to fields.

The challenge of labour will continue to be a hurdle until the farmer gets a fair return for their labour. The movement towards farm markets and CSAs are steps in the right direction. The chain stores are another problem in that they purchase for whole chains versus the locally own stores of the not so distant past. We need the return to local economies over the national or even global market. Big business is not serving the community with all the money heading off to head offices.

The factory farms are not the answer either. They lean towards the monocropping without the fundamentals of good farm practices. The subject of Genetically Modified is best left for a separate thread.

Remember that the small to medium farm served us well before the multinationals began to step into our food chain. They are so diversified that they encomppass all branches of agriculture from the seed to the processing; not to forget the subsidiaries in the drug market. They have us blanketed with poor food and attempt to prop us up with drugs and artificial nutrients. They are only after the dollar. They are all powerful with influence into government and media that you never see the scientific reports on our path of destruction.

The farmer is an essential occupation. Without them we do not eat; we are destined to return to hunters and gatherers at the rate we are going.

The organic matter recycling is the key. Chemicals are but the habit we have bought into. The question remains, "Can we change soon enough to save our planet?"

    Bookmark   November 24, 2009 at 8:48PM
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Lloyd

"Turning topsoil under to 10-12" several times per year in fact buries the soil web."

Have you ever used a plow?

Lloyd

    Bookmark   November 24, 2009 at 11:15PM
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Lloyd

Without any links to the "not fit for service" stories so I just googled. Came up with The Washington Post article. No where did it blame the lack of fitness on the difference between 'organic' and 'conventional' farming. How one comes to that conclusion is beyond me.

I'm going to assume that compost means compost not raw manures. I could be wrong but they did use the phrase "making and using compost" which leads me to believe an active composting program of some kind was used.

Certainly the proper handling of any manures, human or otherwise, has been cited as a major contributor to the increased life expectancy.

Lloyd

    Bookmark   November 24, 2009 at 11:47PM
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Lloyd

Food waste has environmental impact: scientists

More food for thought. (pun intended)

Lloyd

    Bookmark   November 25, 2009 at 2:10AM
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organicdan(z5b Nova Scotia)

pt03, I have seen plowing and other cultivating althought never the operator. The moldboard that plowed my last plot was an older heavy two bottom model on a tractor with poor hydraulics for height adjustment. It cut in by gravity alone to 12". The worst intrusion observed was the Baker (disc) plow digging in to 20+". In tall 2-3' grass you will only see the top 4" between passes.

One of the biggest disc harrows seem had 43" discs and was used in sandy soil by a carrot planter. Many times during travel between fields one of the tractors would be sitting aside the road waiting for assistance after a frame broke under the weight of plows/discs.

My examples are as seem in Nova Scotia with soil ranging from sand to clay. The sight of topgrowth being inverted to depth of 6-18" gives reason to fertilization. All of the topsoil is buried out of range of the seeds and any initial roots.

Perhaps not a routine scene but the Baker Plow link shows the extreme. As stated before, when the organic matter in topsoil is buried gives explanation for continuous irrigation need and repeated chemical (fertilizer and sprays) applications.

When my plot is next cultivated I shall direct that only the 10" disc harrow be employed to incorporate my winter rye. I shall want to see a profusion of litter atop the field. I shall seed and transplant into the litter knowing that the organic matter will be present to feed the plants while also better managing moisture.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2009 at 7:37AM
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Lloyd

Just as a hammer is a tool and was designed primarily to force nails into wood, a plow is a tool designed to work soil under certain conditions to obtain a certain result.

Using a tool for a procedure not intended or even using it incorrectly for the procedure it was intended for is not the fault of the tool but rather the operator.

I can't imagine a soil scenario where a moldboard plow is used "several times per year" over the same soil. I have certainly never seen it done.

As for some of your other statements, I've come to the realization that you are convinced of certain 'facts' and no amount of showing you different thoughts or ideas will ever move you away from those biases. So be it, you as well as anybody else are entitled to their beliefs.

Lloyd

    Bookmark   November 25, 2009 at 12:40PM
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borderbarb

Doing a search for the Cornucopia Project that I remember was started by Rodale I found several links ... most had dates in the '80's and I thought it was the '60s. But the gist of the project as I recall was that we consumers of agricultural products had to become educated and more proactive. Buying food locally to keep local food production healthy was a cornerstone to this project. In addition to going against the torrent of "chem-agri will feed the world happy talk" swallowed and disseminated by the media and academia, I wonder if Rodale's hard line about organic was a part of the reason for the projects failure.[?] Anyway - just a thought. Here is one of the links I found. Review of Rodale book : "The Fatal Harvest Reader: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture." https://www.msu.edu/~howardp/VanHall.html And just a note about civil disagreement. Plz lets keep discussion on point as well as on topic.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2009 at 5:19PM
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Michael

One of these days I've got to post some pictures of the organic material left on the ground this time of year from the farmers using minimum and no-till methods. Often times, in normal rotations growing milo, soybeans, wheat and corn there is 80 - 100% ground cover at least through the winter. The tillage that is done prior to planting is, well, minimal.

My point is that even in central KS where, with all the evil methods used that are killing the planet to keep all these farmers living on the edge financially, a lot of organic matter IS being returned to the soil. I just walked a corn field last Sunday hunting pheasant, the soil was definitely wet but my boots didn't get a bit of mud on them. The previous year the field was in wheat.

This last point is addressed only to those who have never seen grain fields year in and year out. Get out and look at what is going on, the internet is not always accurate, nor does it do a good job of replacing "feet in the field".

To quote some old farmer's lore, "the masters eye and foot are the best manure for the field". Words I live by.

Now it is time for dinner.

Michael

    Bookmark   November 25, 2009 at 7:00PM
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pnbrown

Conventional is feeding the world (or very nearly, let's say). Can't gainsay that.

For how much longer, and what to do when it fails?

    Bookmark   November 25, 2009 at 8:50PM
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Dan Staley

There are multiple components to answering the question 'for how much longer?'. It depends a great deal upon:

o population increases,
o water availability
o how much meat rich people continue to eat, and
o how much more expensive oil will get now that it looks as if we are past peak (even the IEA sez so).

Unless something miraculous happens, there is no more Green Revolution around the corner, as that was fueled by fertilizer and drilling for water in addition to new crop varieties. Climate change is redistributing water (see Australia) and making marginal lands more marginal; in addition, we don't know how much longer people will drill for fossil water.

The economists and others looking at this call it 'hard landing' or 'soft landing'.

Dan

    Bookmark   November 26, 2009 at 9:18AM
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Michael

Dan:

RE: "how much meat rich people continue to eat". I don't recall if it is mentioned in this thread or another but, animal production as part of a pastoral farming system is essential to the organic system both for manure and soil management. Some tout it as the successful way of the good old days before the advent of "chemical" farming. If that is the case then it wouldn't be just "rich" folk as you state eating meat. BTW, please define "rich", I am curious to see if I am. My brother raises goats for meat and milk and also hunts, is he rich? My wife raises chickens for meat and eggs, we both hunt, are we rich? A friend of mine works in a factory but hunts for all his meat, is he rich?

Fresh water quality and quantity and population growth combined are probably the biggest threat IMO not organic vs conventional.

Michael

    Bookmark   November 26, 2009 at 11:42AM
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Dan Staley

Conventional meat production uses lots of water. The larger the animal, the more water it uses. Rule of thumb: 1000kg water for 1kg meat. I understand completely the role of poop.

As people's incomes increase, they eat more meat, using more water. It doesn't matter how you quantify 'rich'. Your American friends/family rich compared to most of the world. You too.

Again, when fossil fuel runs low, we will be forced to go back to using human labor to farm. Will this be enough to feed the projected population in a water-constrained, warmer and less resilient world? We will have to get much, much better at recognizing, identifying and solving problems if so.

[Brief aside, way back as an undergrad at an ag school I had the opportunity to write a peer-reviewed paper (if I stayed another quarter) to compare conventional vs organic cropping systems wrt EROEI and caloric inputs and emergy, and project the results into the future. It would have been one of the first. I didn't stay in school that extra quarter, sometimes I wish I would have, and I would have pointed you to that paper long ago.]

Dan

    Bookmark   November 26, 2009 at 1:10PM
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Lloyd

What about hydrogen Dan, couldn't farm machinery be modified to run on hydrogen?

I've heard one of the stumbling blocks in passenger vehicles is the safety aspect with crashes but I would guess farm machinery wouldn't have that concern as much.

It would be way cool to have a hydrogen powered combine!

Lloyd

    Bookmark   November 26, 2009 at 1:26PM
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jonas302(central mn 4)

I can think of a lot of things tractors can run on including solar, steam, wood gas, hydrogen, vegetaqble oil, animal fat,nuclear, The list goes on if we need to farm by hand people better start buying caskets

Water doesn't go away it is always returned someway be it the cow pee or the person that eats the meat although I do agree it would be good to strech the meat supply further I'm pretty cheap so I little goes a long way

Also I think most anybody can agree that north americans are more obese than malnutritioned call a local hospital and ask them how mant people come in starvng to death with access to cheap food find a poor family and ask them if they would be getting along better if there food bill was 3 times what it is now and they had to raise there own meat and vegetables organicly from there 2 bedroom apt

    Bookmark   November 26, 2009 at 2:04PM
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Michael

Dan: I'm not being snotty but, please answer my question.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2009 at 7:03PM
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Dan Staley

Its all relative Michael.

Take your income and shake a die over a list of countries in the world. What is the chance that your income in a randomly-shaken throw lands on a place where you would be rich? Pretty good. Relatively, compared to most of the people on the planet, your income makes you rich. You are sheltered from most of the things that makes life hard for most humans on the planet. You likely are able to obtain more calories and water than you need and likely live in a structure that shelters you. And you are typing on a computer. And likely many family members are overweight. And you transport yourself around via internal combustion. And and and.

At least, I think that was the question you wanted more specificity on...

----------

pt03:

Hydrogen is a carrier, not a source of energy. Sure we could modify. We could modify a tractor to run on cat p*ss. But why?

Dan

    Bookmark   November 26, 2009 at 7:47PM
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Dan Staley

Global fresh water demand by 2030 will be 40 per cent higher than current supplies Global fresh water demand by 2030 will be 40 per cent higher than current supplies and agriculture is predicted to suck up 65 per cent of all resources, said the report by the 2030 Water ResourcesGroup.

The rich can purchase water. Since 2007, twice the arable land of Germany has been purchased just for the water. I doubt few in India were among the purchasers. This is why you see Nestlé buying water rights around the US.

Organic ag solving this quandary? Conventional ag solving this? Wrong question.

Dan

    Bookmark   November 26, 2009 at 8:22PM
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Lloyd

Dan, you said "Again, when fossil fuel runs low, we will be forced to go back to using human labor to farm."

I asked "What about hydrogen Dan, couldn't farm machinery be modified to run on hydrogen?"

You asked "But why?"

The point being hydrogen can substitute for the fossil fuels, it's just technology.

Lloyd

P.S. I ain't holding 200 cats over the fuel tank to fill up the tractor!

    Bookmark   November 26, 2009 at 8:50PM
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pnbrown

Dan, even though I live in what is seemingly the land of inexhaustible rain in the last few years, I tend to agree with you that water will be a major limiting factor in food production.

I would lay it out like this: if a crop depends on fossil-water or diverted river-water to make a return on the investment, it should be abandoned. That will probably mean not using arid and most semi-arid regions for arable. In north america, I imagine that would mean losing about half of our currently productive areas, especially for produce. Very light grazing could be substituted, and/or very appropriate tree and shrub crops.

Conversely, to not use huge areas of productive lands that get plenty of precipitation seems quite perverse. In the northeast, the growing of fodder to feed pet horses consumes enough space to feed millions of people. Additionally there are millions of acres of 50-75-100 year-old bush. Clearing some of those acres would not release an undue amount of carbon, and nowadays it's very effective to chip such small stuff on-site and create compost and mulch for the first couple of years. These new fields could easily be no-till or low-till from the outset.
The northeast could be self-sufficient in fresh produce with ease, and staple grains quite easily also.

Third, I would identify areas that are likely to become less productive in the near future - such as the southeast - and move quickly to provide viable crop substitutes.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2009 at 8:21AM
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gjcore(zone 5 Aurora Co)

Lloyd, Hydrogen is not a substitute for fossil fuels. It takes a lot of energy to isolate hydrogen. If we're going to develop a hydrogen industry then the fuel should come from alternative energies. I see hydrogen as a good storage for excess wind or solar energy.

On the other hand if we could manage through technology to separate hydrogen more efficiently then maybe things look better.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2009 at 11:38PM
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Lloyd

"I see hydrogen as a good storage for excess wind or solar energy."

I guess that is what I'm thinking about. I'm not talking an entire industry to power all the automobiles and all the other internal combustion engines. I'm thinking a smaller unit run on solar/wind, generating hydrogen locally on a farm for exclusive use in the production of agricultural products.

If I am using 400 gallons of diesel fuel per year why couldn't hydrogen be used to replace that? Especially when diesel is no more.

Lloyd

    Bookmark   November 28, 2009 at 7:05AM
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Dan Staley

Lloyd, hydrogen is not a fuel. It is a carrier of energy. You have to make the energy to crack H for H to carry energy. Like gjcore said.

I agree with the implication in pnbrown's reply, that we will be repurposing vanity land for more useful purposes, altho I see a lot of horse property that has been wrecked and the soil will need a lot of work to get it useful again. There will also be migration to places with water, and IMHO the Colo Front Range will have some depopulation (but not 100%) from lack of water.

Dan

    Bookmark   November 28, 2009 at 11:50AM
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Lloyd

I guess I'm not explaining myself very well. Let me put in a point form and you tell me which one is wrong.

Hydrogen can be used as a fuel in an internal combustion engine just like diesel, gasoline or natural gas.

Large farm machinery require portable internal combustion engines that provide power. This portability is crucial.

Hydrogen can be stored in a vessel/tank to allow for portability.

Electricity itself will not provide enough portable power to run large farm machinery.

Solar and wind can be used to generate electricity.

Solar and wind will not power portable farm machinery.

Electricity can be used to seperate the hydrogen from the oxygen in water.

Tell me what I'm missing.

Lloyd

    Bookmark   November 28, 2009 at 3:31PM
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Dan Staley

Hopefully this article clearly states why H is not a fuel and is instead a carrier. If not, I don't know what to say: But unlike oil and gas, hydrogen is not a fuel. It is a way of storing or transporting energy. You have to make it before you can use it generally by extracting hydrogen from fossil fuels, or by using electricity to split it from water.

You must use energy to crack hydrogen to make it carry energy in a fuel cell. It is not free cheap energy like upon which we have propped up our society.

Dan

    Bookmark   November 28, 2009 at 3:57PM
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Lloyd

Took me a while to read the whole article. You appear to be getting hung up on that one line.

Definition of fuel.

The article clearly says it can be used to power an internal combustion engine, the article says it can be manufactured using solar or wind generated electricity, the article says it can be compressed and transported in a tank/vessel.

No one, including myself, is saying it's free or cheap but it can be a replacement for fossil fuels in some aplications and I would argue especially so when there are no longer fossil fuels left as opposed to your "when fossil fuel runs low, we will be forced to go back to using human labor to farm".

Lloyd

    Bookmark   November 28, 2009 at 4:55PM
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Dan Staley

I'm not getting hung up on one line from one article. If the EROEI isn't right, the "fuel" isn't a good replacement for the cheap energy sources that have propped up our wasteful society; this concept is imperative for future policy - not harping on the EROEI is the reason why the wasteful biofuels subsidies happened recently.

Hopefully future technology can solve the hydrogen problem and make it a viable component of fuel cells so we can have replacement energy. I'm not sure how to solve the materials problem (lack of appropriate minerals in earth's crust), thus my "when fossil fuel runs low, we will be forced to go back to using human labor to farm". Either that or we'll have to drastically reduce our birth rate in order to equalize out with the available energy sources.

Dan

    Bookmark   November 29, 2009 at 10:35AM
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Lloyd

It ain't going to be cheap to start with but I think it will happen eventually.

Lloyd

    Bookmark   November 29, 2009 at 12:02PM
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Michael

Dan: Precisely to the point, relative. Yes I make more dollars than others in other parts of the world but, shake that die of expenses and you will see a vast difference also. That aside, I do have shelter, calories, water and motorized transportation but those are NOT guaranteed to be here tomorrow. Living in this country allows me the opportunity to pick myself back up if things get worse. THAT is the advantage I have over many people in other countries when it comes to living. I too am living on the edge, mine is just a wider edge but not a lot.

"You are sheltered from most of the things that makes life hard for most humans on the planet."
Your best point Dan. Instead of hard, how about difficult to prosper?

Believe it or not, from young to old, none of my family (except one cousin and a sister maybe) are overweight.

I've been thinking about the whole "rich folk" eating meat notion and contrasting that with the pastoral society idea for providing manures for crops. Had an excellent idea about it in the shower last night and unfortunately have forgotten it! Hope it returns.

I am glad you started this thread, how about one entitled, how much longer can humankind feed itself?

    Bookmark   November 29, 2009 at 7:51PM
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gjcore(zone 5 Aurora Co)

Cool looking tractor! It's not ready for the fields yet but I guess we'll see where the technology goes. There's many hurdles yet to overcome.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2009 at 8:15PM
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