On The Brink Of A New Agricultural Revolution?

An article quoting Dr Brian Keating speaking at the Australian Society of Agronomy Conference under the title "On The Brink Of A New Agricultural Revolution" says:

"In a keynote address to the Australian Society of Agronomy Conference, the Director of CSIRO's Agricultural Sustainability Initiative, Dr Brian Keating, said there is evidence that rates of increase in agricultural productivity are easing both in Australia and overseas."

The .

That doesn't sound like a "revolution"... The article then states that...

"With the United Nations predicting the world population to increase by 2.5 billion by 2050 and with dramatic changes in food consumption patterns associated with economic development in Asia, there is an urgent need to face up to the challenge of doubling food production over the next 50 years."

Uh, huh. World population now about 6.72 billion.

says the world population in 2050 is likely to be:

Median variant: 9.191 billion

Low variant: 7.792 billion

Personally, I'll put my money on the low variant.

How cheery do we feel about economic development in Asia to 2050 and the "dramatic changes" it will bring in food consumption patterns?

We then read...

"We are going to need a 'revolution' in agricultural productivity over the coming decades to meet these challenges - particularly in terms of the efficiency with which we use land, water, nutrient and energy resources in agricultural production," Dr Keating said.

Well, we could be adding a little over a billion people and we could have a food consumption revolution in the direction of eating less animal protein. That's just as probable a prognosis for 2050, isn't it? In that case, productivity might have to increase, but production would not necessarily have to. So I agree with the mentioned efficiencies, but the article doesn't say very much about how Dr Keating thinks they will be achieved, except to say that, "he is optimistic that agricultural science and industry innovation is up to these challenges."

That's reassuring. Since in a world where apalling hunger and mass over-consumption of food exist almost side by side one of the most serious problems is how to distribute food more equitably, perhaps we could also come up with some social policies to deal with this issue. If not, even if we double the food supply by 2050, what's going to prevent a doubling of the number of starving while we get a doubling of the obese at the same time?

Dr Keating might benefit from a reading of The Final Energy Crisis (2nd Ed.), published recently, as he will find that he really should introduce a few more variables into his equations in order to get a more realistic approximation of where humanity is headed this century.

The Final Energy Crisis 2: Questions and Discussion

The chapters I submitted to The Final Energy Crisis 2 are the ones on the connections between fossil energy resources and food production in Japan and North Korea (DPRK). If you have any questions or comments about the content of these chapters, I will be very happy to hear from you, and also to reply to you on this blog. If it is necessary to give more than a short answer, I may start a new blog topic based on your question or comment.

To leave a question or a comment, please just type in a comment below. I will check regularly and answer your question or comment as soon as possible. Thank you.

Food links

of 23 Jun 08 by on WebDiary. Describes the intricate dilemmas faced by an Australian farmer in the west of NSW – whether to continue grazing of livestock, which can be done sustainably, but which provides an insufficient income or to turn part or all of the farm over to mechanised monocultural wheat cropping, which, whilst far more lucrative, is at a frightening cost to the longer term viability of the farm.

in Science Alert, Thur, 01 May 08 by Peter Salonius

Many keen thinkers have understood that the driver enabling our numbers to shoot so far over long-term carrying capacity has been the one-time gift of fossil fuels, ...

... the other major factor that has enabled our numbers to shoot so far over long-term carrying capacity has been the one-time gift of erodible soils and the vast store of nutrients they contained until we began to irreversibly mine them about 10,000 years ago with cultivation agriculture.

Christopher Cook on US industrialised food production: the author of Diet for a Dead Planet describes the dysfunctional state of the US's industrialised food manufacturing and distribution system on .

Business-as-Usual Not a Viable Option

Lester R. Brown, 16 Apr 08

A fast-unfolding food shortage is engulfing the entire world, driving food prices to record highs. Over the past half-century grain prices have spiked from time to time because of weather-related events, such as the 1972 Soviet crop failure that led to a doubling of world wheat, rice, and corn prices. The situation today is entirely different, however. The current doubling of grain prices is trend-driven, the cumulative effect of some trends that are accelerating growth in demand and other trends that are slowing the growth in supply.

14 Apr 08 from .

(CNN) -- Riots from Haiti to Bangladesh to Egypt over the soaring costs of basic foods have brought the issue to a boiling point and catapulted it to the forefront of the world's attention, the head of an agency focused on global development said Monday.

by Justin Norrie, Tokyo , 22 Apr 08 in .

Food fears: Being a rich nation is no protection for Japan, which faces the fallout of relying too heavily on foreign food to supply domestic needs.

Lynda Hurst, 12 Apr08 in .

Riots over rising grain prices are ripping through the developing world and the United Nations warns there's worse to come. Was Malthus right? Are we getting too numerous to feed ourselves?

John Quiggin's failure to grasp the resources shortage crisis

The following was originally -85242">posted as a response to an article by Social Democratic economist Professor John Quiggin on his blog site on 5 June 2006. In the article he stated “Most natural resources have actually become cheaper, but even in cases where prices have risen, such as that of oil, the economic impact has been marginal, relative to the long-run trend of increasing income”. Professor Quiggin places himself somewhere between the extreme of 'deep brown' (i.e. for full steam ahead with economic growth) and the other supposed extreme of 'deep green'. However, the practical implications of his approach have been shown to have been disastrously short of what was, and is, required.


-85242" title="">November 6th, 2006 at 8:17 am

John Quiggin :

“we can’t protect the environment unless we are willing to accept a radical reduction in our standard of living”.

Sorry, but I cannot accept this statement. If you define a high standard of living as ‘owning stuff’, then you are simply wrong. If our standard of living is so great, why is it we have to spend so much money repairing people? Why is there so much depression?

Our modern lifestyle is crap! I know, because on the whole I have divorced it. I have never been happier than since I quit working (for a wage of course, at the age of 46!) June next year, I will ditch my car, and I can’t wait! Finally organised so I no longer need it.

I grow much of my own food (spent $50 shopping in the last 2 weeks), am totally water and energy self sufficient (apart from the 60L of petrol I still use a fortnight), and I’m debt free. Free of the economy. I need so little money to live on, it’s AMAZING! I’m also so healthy now, I haven’t even so much as had a cold in over two years (I’m 54 now). Once I’ll have ditched the car, my footprint will be sustainable. Totally. And my living standard is the BEST it’s ever been. I do what I want, when I want, well almost. Just give me six more months.

JQ then goes on to :

“On the one hand, claims that we are bound to run out of resources, made most vigorously by the Club of Rome in the 1970s, have repeatedly been refuted by experience. Most natural resources have actually become cheaper, but even in cases where prices have risen, such as that of oil, the economic impact has been marginal, relative to the long-run trend of increasing income. The recent increase in the price of oil, for example, might, if sustained, reduce income by about 1 per cent, or around 4 months of economic growth.”

Really JQ? We’re not running out of resources? So they fall out of the sky to replenish do they? I don’t know where you’ve heard commodity prices have been falling. They’re all UP! Copper wire has doubled in price just this year (I know, I’m still building my house). Gold, silver, zinc, lead, nickel, all up, all past their peak of production most likely. Supply can no longer meet demand, just as the Club of Rome predicted! Why is it they are ALWAYS mis-quoted? They tried about six different models of growing resource use, and every model predicted a collapse of civilisation within 100 years of their report, 1970. We are now 35% of the way into this period, and they are BANG ON!

But of course, you’re an economist JQ, and you measure everything with dollars! I’m an energy man, and I measure everything in MegaJoules (MJ). So when you say the increase in the price of oil will reduce income by about 1%, I say so what? What if you can’t drive to work because of shortages, how much will your income be reduced then?

By ABARE’s very own figures, unless a shitload of oil is found very very soon, Australia could be totally out of the stuff within SIX YEARS. It will then be all imported, just as everybody else in the world wants a piece of the action.

Worse, as we ‘run out’ and slide down the backside of Hubbert’s Peak, the quality of the oil worsens (thicker, sourer) and the depths at which it needs to be extracted from get deeper and deeper, such that more and more energy has to be wasted to distil it to the standard we have all become accustomed to. The same applies to ALL resources. The easiest and best resources get used first, known as the low hanging fruit syndrome.

Furthermore, food volumes produced on this planet have been in decline for five years straight. Of course, the number of people keeps going up at about 4 Australias per annum. So less food is available, and the price goes up. But she’ll be right JQ, market forces will ensure that we with the most money will always be able to get our lot…. Hang everyone else.

Your precious economy is on the brink of collapse. Right now. Yes, the end is nigh. Inflation and interest rates rises will see lots of people going bankrupt as they can no longer fuel their 4WD’s, and nobody wants to take them off their hands.

Your statements on air quality are also fanciful. All we’ve really done is export the pollution to where all our ’stuff’ is now made, namely China.

Do yourself a favour JQ, buy a copy of “Limits to Growth”, and read it again (you have read it, right?).

Mike Stasse

Food or immigrants? That is America's choice on Earth Day 2008

By Brenda Walker April 21, 2008 This article was originally on See also , by Brenda Walker. Just 40 years ago, Enoch Powell began his so-called "Rivers of Blood" speech on April 20, 1968 with a comment that could have been made by an environmentalist: "The supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils." Thought for Earth Day, April 22 2008: Isn’t the immigration-fueled overpopulation of our beautiful country the most preventable evil of all? What a concept—that elected officials should actually look forward, and plan to reach an optimum future for the citizenry. Of course P-L-A-N is the four-letter word that has eluded the vocabulary of Washington, whose denizens can hardly foresee their way to the next election cycle. If America’s elected representatives cared about the country they have sworn to defend, they might consider the future prospects of Americans having an adequate food supply. The increasingly expensive commodity in the headlines recently is gasoline, but food prices are following close behind, with prices for basic staples like rice, wheat and corn rising over 80 percent worldwide in three years. As I wrote recently, the climate-change controversy has pulled attention away from environmental issues about which everyone can agree. There is no argument that human health and well being require clean air and water. We also need enough farmland to grow the food we eat. But prime agricultural acreage is lost to development at a rate of two acres per minute according to a 2002 study by the American Farmland Trust. The year 2008 may be remembered as the time when shortages of basic necessities became commonplace. Worldwide population growth, coupled with the affluence of China and India, has begun to create food shortages, even in First World countries. Japan has run out of butter, for example.
"Japan's acute butter shortage, which has confounded bakeries, restaurants and now families across the country, is the latest unforeseen result of the global agricultural commodities crisis. A sharp increase in the cost of imported cattle feed and a decline in milk imports, both of which are typically provided in large part by Australia, have prevented dairy farmers from keeping pace with demand. While soaring food prices have triggered rioting among the starving millions of the Third World, in wealthy Japan they have forced a pampered population to contemplate the shocking possibility of a long-term—perhaps permanent—reduction in the quality and quantity of its food."[, By Justin Norrie, The Age, Melbourne, Australia, April 21, 2008]
If Japan's food shortages prove to be a preview for the United States, turning America's productive farmlands into housing developments for an ever-increasing population may seem like another bad policy choice. America is no longer a food-exporting nation, as it was for so long when our productive farmers grew grain to feed a hungry planet. Indeed, the first signs of food scarcity are already showing up:
"Major retailers in New York, in areas of New England, and on the West Coast are limiting purchases of flour, rice, and cooking oil as demand outstrips supply. There are also anecdotal reports that some consumers are hoarding grain stocks." [ By Josh Gerstein, New York Sun, April 21, 2008].
Since we are in a "global marketplace" (as talking heads keep reminding us), Washington will do nothing to keep America's home-grown food from being sold to foreign markets, even in the case of food shortages here. Washington's policy on protecting Americans' food supply might be a good question for Presidential candidates, in fact. Even so, it makes no sense to use prime agricultural land for housing and other development. In this respect, the "smart growth" advocates are correct. It makes even less sense to continue open borders to the world as if there is no cost to be paid. California has one of the most managed environments in the US. The engineered water system has allowed California to pack in nearly 40 million residents, far more than the environment can support without damaging its natural resources. Every rainy season is faced with hope and dread, now that only one low year of rainfall puts the state at risk for mandatory household water restriction because of increased demand. Part of water management is wildlife control. That means no semblance of normal life cycles for creatures like salmon. Once the iconic fish of the northwest swam from the ocean to return to the place in mountain streams where it had hatched to breed before dying. Now those rivers have been dammed, diverted or dried up because of human intervention to control water. This year, the California salmon fishery crashed. Not only was the failure a surprise to experts, but the cause is not understood for sure—largely because there are so many possibilities of what could have gone wrong. Whatever the reason, it may well be the end of a way of life for hundreds of the state's fishermen, not to mention the loss of a valuable and delicious food source: , April 12, 2008].
"Now, for the first time since commercial fishing began on the West Coast more than 150 years ago during the Gold Rush era, no boats will be permitted to put to sea to fish for chinook, the fabled king salmon that is the mainstay of the commercial fishery. “The ban is only for one year, but it could be a death blow to an industry that has been in decline for years. As recently as 15 years ago, 4,000 small boats fished off the California coast for salmon; now the salmon fleet numbers only 400."
The financial loss in commercial and recreational salmon fishing to California is estimated to be over $20 million for one season. But the failing health of the supporting environment has other indicators as well, in particular the precipitous decline of the delta smelt last year. It's an ordinary little fish, but its plunging numbers show how rapidly the Sacramento River Delta has become more of a sewer than an ecosystem. In California, the health of fisheries has always taken a back seat to agricultural interests—and, of course, to the omnipresent needs of population growth. When Los Angeles demands more water, politicians salute and obey, if they want to keep their jobs. Not long ago, fish was an inexpensive source of protein and a tasty addition to meals. Now waste and poor resource management have put some species' survival at risk, not to mention removed them as a food source. With so many additional mouths to feed, it's tremendously short-sighted to treat our natural resources so unwisely. Overpopulation, both domestic and global, creates more difficult choices. One example is the use of food plants like corn to create ethanol, in order to achieve energy independence from the Saudi oil barons, a worthwhile effort that is decades late. However, food prices have shot up as a result, leading to rioting in countries like Haiti and Egypt that are already on the edge. Natural resources can only stretch so far. Technology cannot be a savior from human foibles. On Earth Day, we adults should be talking about reasonable limits—on immigration into the U.S. for example. In fact, although the environmentalist establishment ducks the immigration issue, responsible environmentalists who are honest about the overpopulation crisis are among the toughest critics of open borders. The word "zero" rolls from their lips far more often than among other groups. Conservationists who look at the numbers grasp that a hundred thousand newcomers today rapidly expand to a million because of children and America's family-based immigration policies are a Ponzi scheme from Hell. Skyrocketing food prices and looming shortages are a symptom that America is full up. For Earth Day, citizens should insist that politicians must "provide against preventable evils"—even if they don’t mention the controversial Enoch Powell as the source of that wisdom.