Skip to main content

Agriculture is highly dependent on cheap oil.  Just observe the many tractors, combines, and other oil-consuming farm machinery as you drive across the country.   That dependence on cheap oil is a threat to agriculture, and a new report from the U.S. military Joint Operating Command warns that the threat is imminent:

"By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 million barrels per day...."

A shortfall of that magnitude will drive up oil prices, and cause economic and political consequences worldwide.  Here in Iowa, we have already seen what that could look like.  When oil hit $147 per barrel in 2008, Iowa agriculture went into a tailspin that it hasn’t yet fully recovered from.  Keeping the farm diesel tanks full and buying nitrogen fertilizer for the corn crop came close to prohibitively expensive overnight.

Despite that shock to the system, our agricultural policies are still mostly predicated on an unending supply of cheap oil to fuel our increasing agricultural industrialization.   Our farmers deserve better, and they need our leaders to help them prepare for and prosper in the new reality that is bearing down on us even faster than we thought.  We must develop a vision and plans for how we will operate in a future of high energy costs, and we need to do it now, not wait until oil shortages and high energy prices start putting farmers out of business.  

What are the elements of a sound energy policy for agriculture?

First, we need to make our farming systems much more energy-efficient and resilient. We can do that by, as much as possible, replacing annual crops with perennial crops which do not require the high levels of fossil-fuel-based fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides that annual crops do.  The best way to do that is to develop the next generation of biofuel technology that uses perennial crops (such as switchgrass) as the biomass source. We can also achieve lower costs and more energy efficiency by converting much of our confinement animal production to grazing systems.  When animals harvest their own feed by grazing, the energy costs for harvesting and processing their feed are avoided, as well as the energy costs of collecting the feedlot manure and hauling it back to the field.  There are environmental benefits of a well designed grazing system over confinement animal production as well.

Second, we need to develop technologies to produce energy to power agriculture.  Now, most of our biofuel production is geared to make ethanol for highway vehicles.  Secretary Vilsack has proposeda program for moving toward production of advanced biofuels.  Advanced biofuels are fuels made from biomass other than corn grain.  This is a very positive move, and shows the value of having progressive decision makers in our federal government.  That program does include support for technologies for using perennial crops to make diesel fuel, the most common fuel for powering agriculture.

Third, we need to develop promising new energy technologies that can be operated at a farm scale, so the energy produced on the farm can be used directly on the farm.  For example, we can put mid-size wind turbines on farms all across the country, where wind speeds are sufficient, so the wind on a farm can be used to power the farm.  Also, we should develop the technology to produce biofuels right on the farm to power the farm.  When the value of the energy created is retained on the farm, it will make agriculture more sustainable, put more money in the pockets of farmers, and create economic development for rural communities.  Developing and applying these kinds of farm-scale energy systems will also create good green jobs for building and maintaining the required infrastructure.

We should prepare for our energy future, not ignore or fear it.  We can create an energy-efficient and self-sufficient agriculture in a time of shrinking oil supplies and still have prosperity on our farms, and produce food that our people can afford to buy.

I am running for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture because I see that Iowa agriculture is facing some major challenges -- including the escalating costs of energy -- that we are ill-prepared to meet.  We will need new vision and new leadership to surmount those challenges.

Originally posted to Francis Thicke on Tue Apr 20, 2010 at 03:15 AM PDT.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Thank you for the diary. (8+ / 0-)

    This is what a lot of people do not understand - yet. They will soon.

    If the people lead, the leaders will follow.

    by Mz Kleen on Tue Apr 20, 2010 at 03:51:02 AM PDT

  •  Renewable Ammonia (7+ / 0-)

    Renewable Ammonia is another technology that belongs in the tool kit.

    Stranded Wind has an excellent summary here.  

    As we have long suspected here on dKos, the answer really does turn out to be "pie"

    by Jim W on Tue Apr 20, 2010 at 04:12:16 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for the diary (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    irate, Dauphin, DRo, Francis Thicke

    and good luck.

  •  Good diary -- one quibble. (9+ / 0-)

    Overall you've got a good diary going here, but one thing jumps out at me.  Well, two things, taken together...

    The best way to do that is to develop the next generation of biofuel technology that uses perennial crops (such as switchgrass) as the biomass source.

    ...and...

    We can also achieve lower costs and more energy efficiency by converting much of our confinement animal production to grazing systems.

    I'm for both of those -- however, if I'm growing switchgrass for biodiesel, how can I grow, for instance, wheat, for grazing?

    Obviously, as a single, small cattle concern, no one is expecting me, personally, to produce both graze and crops for biomass sources, but I think there could be a point where we are trying to decide between growing feed crops (for cattle or people) and crops for fuel in the same limited spaces.

    An overwhelming problem?  Probably not, but definitely something to be considered.

    •  Good Point (7+ / 0-)

      We are never going to be able to supply a major portion our transportation fuel needs with biofuels from crop production.  Right now we use a third of the US corn crop to make ethanol and it replaces only about nine percent of our gasoline needs.  We could achieve a much greater reduction in oil dependency by improving the mileage of our automobiles.

      The average automobile in the US (if you include SUVs) gets only about 22 mpg.  If we increased that by 2 mph, we would save more gallons of fuel than all the gallons of ethanol produced from a third of the US corn crop.  Clearly, we are not using our biofuels very wisely.  

      The Europeans and Japanese have achieved an average mileage of about 45 mpg -- double the US mileage.  If we doubled our fuel mileage we would save many times more fuel than what we get from the corn ethanol we are making.

      What I would like to see is for us to develop the promising technologies that will allow farmers to make enough biofuels on the farm to power the farm, using perennial crops that will produce more net energy that corn and be more protective of the environment.

      http://thickeforagriculture.com/index.php

      by Francis Thicke on Tue Apr 20, 2010 at 05:32:37 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You might also want to examine (5+ / 0-)

        the possibilities of batteries, combined with renewable energy, to power machinery. I diaried about it yesterday.

        Iuris praecepta sunt haec: Honeste vivere, alterum non laedere, suum cuique tribuere. - Ulpian, Digestae 1, 3

        by Dauphin on Tue Apr 20, 2010 at 05:51:03 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Now I feel badly (7+ / 0-)

          I saw the title of that diary go by yesterday and thought it was snark so I didn't read.  Thanks for straightening me out.  It's well worth reading.

        •  Energy Storage (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Dauphin, Justus, DiosAias, theatre goon

          Yes, batteries are one energy-storage medium.  Another storage medium is compressed air.  And, as mentioned earlier, anhydrous ammonia is a potential storage medium for storing wind energy.  And anhydrous ammonia has the potential to be used as a fuel for internal combustion engines.

          On my own farm I use a solar-powered water pump for watering my cows.  The solar pump pumps water from a pond to a 4000-gallon storage tank on top of a hill.  The water gravity feeds from the storage tank to the pastures throughout my farm.

          http://thickeforagriculture.com/index.php

          by Francis Thicke on Tue Apr 20, 2010 at 06:05:20 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I support battery technology (4+ / 0-)

            to power machinery and cars because it's flexible: You can get electricity from a variety of sources, renewable and non-renewable, and production may be as concentrated or dispersed as need be, if a grid is well-designed.

            On the other hand, ammonia production would have to be centralised, and I really don't think it's smart to have another resource compete both for food production and transport. Besides, using ammonia may be less efficient because of the energy intensity of production and the fact that electric engines are more efficient.

            Consider: An internal combustion engine transfers about 25% of its heat energy into motion. An electric engine transfers 70-85%. In short, you need to produce far less energy if you cut out the middle man that is ammonia and leave ammonia for the farmers.

            Iuris praecepta sunt haec: Honeste vivere, alterum non laedere, suum cuique tribuere. - Ulpian, Digestae 1, 3

            by Dauphin on Tue Apr 20, 2010 at 06:09:33 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Electric cars (4+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              2laneIA, Dauphin, Justus, theatre goon

              I would agree that electric cars offer incredible potential.  I drive a hybrid that averages 44 to 45 mpg (about twice the average US car mileage).

              I am planning on converting my hybrid to a plug-in hybrid.  The kit I am looking at should give me 80 to 90 mpg for the first 100 miles or so.

              Electric and hybrid cars can be charged at night, when electrical demands are lowest and wind-power generating capacity might otherwise go unused.  

              If we were to develop a "smart" power gird, electric cars could serve as a storage medium for wind-powered electricity.  For example, if a commuter had an electric car that could go 100 miles on a charge, and her commute to work was ten miles one way, she could charge her car at home overnight during off-peak hours, drive to work in the morning, plug her car into a meter connected to the electrical grid and sell 70 miles worth of electricity back to the grid during the hours of peak electrical demand.  She could drive home in the evening with ten miles worth of power to spare.  

              http://thickeforagriculture.com/index.php

              by Francis Thicke on Tue Apr 20, 2010 at 06:49:23 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  Still basic quibble on one point. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Justus

        What I would like to see is for us to develop the promising technologies that will allow farmers to make enough biofuels on the farm to power the farm, using perennial crops that will produce more net energy that corn and be more protective of the environment.

        I don't think small, family farms will be able to do such and still produce crops for sale or for graze -- pretty much all the available land for crops is taken up already, I'm afraid to produce their own biofuels would end up being all they were farming for.

        I could easily be mistaken on this, though, just going from my own experience -- it takes all of our available land just for feed crops and graze, we just wouldn't be able to do both.

        I think the battery systems discussed below, in conjunction with solar and wind might be more feasible, but even with that, I'm not sure it would create enough energy for agriculture production.  I don't know as much about how much energy such things can produce, so I'll freely admit I'm just guessing at this.

  •  Why can't all of these (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    2laneIA, Francis Thicke

    Just observe the many tractors, combines, and other oil-consuming farm machinery as you drive across the country.  

    run on ethanol?

    Seems appropriate.  Of course, then there'd be no food for the rest of us, but we can cross that bridge later.

    •  Become more efficient (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Roadbed Guy, DWG

      As I mentioned in a post above, we should strive to make our agriculture much more energy efficient, and then produce the energy needs of agriculture right on the farm, using wind, solar, and appropriate biofuel production.

      http://thickeforagriculture.com/index.php

      by Francis Thicke on Tue Apr 20, 2010 at 05:36:05 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, the comment was backhanded swipe at (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        2laneIA, Jagger, Francis Thicke

        the biofuels meme - it definitely could find a niche, but overall it seems very imprudent from several perspectives.

        Most importantly, does this planet have significant excess capacity to grow things for purposes other than feeding an ever expanding global population?

        Secondly, many of the "waste" products actually support value added manufacturing that is being threatened by initiatives to burn this stuff.  I don't have the links at my fingertips but this issue was raised in a recent issue of C & E News . . . .

        •  Found a semi-related article . . . (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          2laneIA, Justus, Francis Thicke

          One of the world’s oldest industries could be damaged by legislation drafted in response to one of the world’s newest concerns.

          Executives at Arizona Chemical, the leading U.S. producer of pine-derived chemicals, fear that greenhouse gas control provisions in the clean energy bills now working their way through Congress could inadvertently rob their firm of the raw materials they use to produce a host of naturally derived chemicals.

          Arizona finds itself in the same predicament that producers of oleochemicals have faced since government started providing incentives to the biodiesel industry several years ago. Well-intentioned legislation meant to encourage reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is threatening these firms’ livelihood.

          People have been extracting turpentine, rosin, and pitch from sticky pine tree gum for thousands of years. The earliest reference to pine chemicals is no doubt the biblical passage in Genesis where God instructs Noah to "pitch the ark within and without." The modern pine chemicals industry refines by-products known as crude tall oil and crude sulfate turpentine that are created during the wood pulping process.

          [snip]

          The problem for the pine chemicals industry is that the legislation considers tall oil and turpentine to be renewable biomass. Companies that burn them for energy won’t have to pay a tax on the carbon dioxide created by the process, explains Mike Husain, who is in charge of sustainability for Arizona’s North American operations. The tax is expected to fall between $10 and $28 per ton of CO2 emitted, Husain says, enough of a savings to divert these raw materials from the pine chemicals industry.

          [snip]

          more here . . .

        •  Fueling Agriculture (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Dauphin, Justus, DiosAias

          Even if we make agriculture much more energy-efficient, we will still need some energy sources to power agriculture in order to produce food.  My point is that we should try to find the best and most efficient and environmentally sound ways to produce fuel on farms to power farms so we can continue to produce food indefinitely in the future.

          http://thickeforagriculture.com/index.php

          by Francis Thicke on Tue Apr 20, 2010 at 06:09:26 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  A solution...less feed crop for animals and more (7+ / 0-)

    for humans. A transition to a more plant based focused diet. Meat production is very inefficient takes too much cheap oil also overuses water and land. Peak water and land are right on the tail of peak oil.

    •  Yes, that is more efficient (8+ / 0-)

      It takes much less land for a plant-based diet than for a meat-based diet.  John Jeavons says he is able to produce enough food for one person using just a tenth of an acre.

      However, many people still want to eat meat, so we should look at how we can produce livestock in ways that use less energy and water.  Much of the land in the US is so steep or otherwise fragile that it is not suitable for crop production.  That land is well suited for well managed grazing operations that could produce grass-fed beef and milk in ways that not only protect the environment, but enhance the natural resource base by the way the grazing system is managed.

      http://thickeforagriculture.com/index.php

      by Francis Thicke on Tue Apr 20, 2010 at 05:46:05 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  We already produce livestock trying to use (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Francis Thicke

        less space and less energy overall the result is the disaster of CAFOs  It's an unsustainable practice that has degraded our environment and public health just to satisfy taste buds.  We need to reduce our consumption of meat.  There is not enough land to produce livestock sustainably at the current levels of consumption.

        http://www.nytimes.com/...

        http://www.washingtonpost.com/...

        •  Does it use less energy? (7+ / 0-)

          CAFOs do not use less energy.  Consider this:

          My dairy farm is divided into 60 small pastures.  That allows me to put the cows into a new pasture area twice a day, after each milking.  All I have to do is open the next gate after each milking.  The cows harvest their own feed and spread their manure in a manner that is ecologically sound (and they enjoy their work :-)  

          In a CAFO dairy, the cows are confined by the milking facility and the feed has to be harvested mechanically, hauled to the dairy, put into storage, and then removed from storage incrementally each day to feed the cows.  And, the manure has to be collected and put into storage and eventually hauled back to the field the feed came from.  All of those processes that energy to perform.

          Clearly, a grazing dairy farm is much more energy-efficient than a CAFO dairy.  

          About 12 years ago I had the opportunity to visit Cuba on a scientific study tour.  We learned that after the Soviet Union collapsed the Cubans lost their source of oil-based inputs for agriculture.  They had to quickly convert their former Soviet-style industrial animal systems (CAFOs) to grass-based systems.  They found the grass-based systems to be much more energy-efficient.

          By their calculations, the former Ciban industrial livestock systems required about 10 units of energy expenditure to produce one unit of food energy.  With the pasture systems they were studying, they had already achieved an energy efficiency of 10 units of food energy produced from each unit of energy expended—a 100-fold increase over their former industrial livestock systems—and their goal was to get at least 15 units of food energy from every unit of energy expended.

          http://thickeforagriculture.com/index.php

          by Francis Thicke on Tue Apr 20, 2010 at 06:30:42 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  cow for cow it may use less energy and (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Justus, Francis Thicke

            I agree pastured livestock is better than confined lots. But then you have the problem of slaughter houses
            http://www.nytimes.com/...
            and the transport to slaughter houses as no one wants a slaughter house in their community as it has the same problems as CAFOs.

            And the volume is a problem as there is not enough land to graze livestock sustainably at current and projected consumption

            http://fora.tv/...

            This is from Mark
            Bittmans well researched book "Food Matters". Sorry, this is a long link but couldn't scan for short links, so this is an audio.

            I think looking at the big picture we are in transition to less meat consumption as there will be a cost placed on greenhouse gas emissions which will raise the price of meat to a level that will decrease consumption. Same situation as gasoline, people need to adjust to the new reality.

          •  How do you manage to be a dairy (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            beach babe in fl, Francis Thicke

            without being a CAFO?

            Not all CAFO's are feedlots, you know.  The Concentrated aspect covers operations where manure is likely to be concentrated - not that the animals are in a concentrated area all the time.  And in a dairy, you know as well as I do that manure gets concentrated while milking.

            I own a 50 acre sheep dairy, where all the animals are pasture fed as yours, and I am required to have a CAFO license.  But I am certainly not a feedlot.

            In fact, today I am hosting CAFO compliance officers from all over my state to give them experience with small sheep dairies, and apparently, because I am so good at managing my poo!

            This is why I need a license:

            The regulations say if you have more than X number of animals, have any drainage system, confine the animals for even a minute a day with access to food for X number of days a year, well then you have to be licensed.

            It's a given we both have more than a dozen animals.  Then in order to have a PMO compliant dairy, you are required to have floor drains.  Then, in order to actually milk, you have to confine the animals with feed for at least a couple of minutes a day.

            So why do you not need to be a CAFO?  What do you do with the manure that collects in your dairy? Where do you put the liquid manure that comes out of your drains? Because that is what CAFO regulations are all about - the safe handling and distribution of manure.

            I have the cleanest and healthiest damned farm in the county.

            The feedlot problem has nothing to do with CAFO licensing.  All CAFO licensing says is that if you are collect manure in any concentration in any area under certain circumstances, this is what you must do in order to make sure everyone stays healthy.  And that's a great law.

            It is the local laws on stocking rates that causes the problem.  I am allowed 200 sheep on my 50 acres (which is even too much).  If all operators were required to have x amount of accessible pasture for their livestock, then it would be more economically practical to let the animals feed themselves, as you and I do.

            But it really annoys me to see the word CAFO being thrown around as synonymous with feedlot, and it surprised me as you seemed quite knowledgable on ag.

            •  Does it depend (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Francis Thicke

              on what state you're in?

            •  Definition of CAFO (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              2laneIA

              The federal definition of a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) -- from the Clean Water Act -- is any animal feeding operation with more than 1000 animal units.  The definition also includes specification on the minimum amount of time per year the animals must be confined -- I think 45 days -- to be called a CAFO.  Smaller confinement operations can also meet the definition of "CAFO" under certain conditions -- for example, if they have a record of manure spills.

              Apparently you live in a state that uses a more restrictive definition of what is called a CAFO.

              http://thickeforagriculture.com/index.php

              by Francis Thicke on Tue Apr 20, 2010 at 07:35:13 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  Not all places are suited (3+ / 0-)

      to growing food for human consumption.

      Much of my land is very wet most of the year.  I have one high spot that I use for veggie gardening.

      So my 50 acres is pretty much out of the game for growing plants for human food consumption.

      But one thing that does grow here like gangbusters is grass.  Grass grows on absolutely anything that doesn't move.

      Now humans can't eat grass directly.  However, they can eat it once my sheep have converted it into milk and meat.

  •  Great diary (9+ / 0-)

    Where I live in Iowa people have to drive 15 miles to the nearest grocery store, and a lot of people drive 30 miles to work.  When gas went to $4 it caused some real hardship, and farmers were paying big bucks to run combines.

    •  Local Food (8+ / 0-)

      We in Iowa consider ourselves to be the Food Capitol of the World, yet we import an estimated 80 to 90% of the food we eat. How ironic!

      A study by an Iowa State University economist estimated that if we in Iowa ate the recommended 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, and if Iowa farmers produced 30% of that food for just three months of the year, it would add $300 million and 4000 jobs to Iowa's economy.

      http://thickeforagriculture.com/index.php

      by Francis Thicke on Tue Apr 20, 2010 at 05:51:21 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Nice to see you here (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    2laneIA, Justus, Francis Thicke

    Yes, agriculture is very dependent on petroleum. In addition to fueling vehicles and equipment, it is used to produce many products used in agriculture: herbicides and pesticides, for example.

    When I worked as a preparedness specialist for USDA, I traveled around the country to talk to state and local officials about preparing for potential disasters that might strike their agricultural areas. I found NASS' statistical summaries enormously helpful in understanding state and local agricultural economies and interdependencies.

    •  Yes, agriculture is very dependent on petroleum (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Justus, DiosAias, NWIA Granny

      The problem, as I see it, is that we in agriculture have paid little or no attention to how we are going to power agriculture in the post-cheap-oil era.  When oil hit $147 per barrel in 2008, fertilizer and diesel prices tripled.  It was nearly enough to shut down some segments of agriculture.  What will happen when the next oil price spike hits $200 or $250 per barrel?

      http://thickeforagriculture.com/index.php

      by Francis Thicke on Tue Apr 20, 2010 at 06:15:51 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  USDA already subsidizes Big Agriculture (5+ / 0-)

        To keep agricultural products like corn and beef competitive in overseas markets, USDA would likely increase subsidies (at the urging of Congress, of course).  Meanwhile, countries that are already making the move to sustainable agriculture will get more efficient and cost effective while our real costs are skyrocketing.

        Peak Oil is not the only crisis on the horizon, either. Water is becoming scarcer and more costly to obtain, also.  In some areas (including the Great Plains) aquifers have been drawn down after decades of over-use by agriculture, industry and a growing population. Chemical contamination of aquifers is another problem related to oil (those herbicides and pesticides, I mentioned, plus numerous chemicals used in industry). There, too, switching to organic, sustainable alternatives is essential for long-term survival.

  •  Algae Oil (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    2laneIA, Justus, DiosAias, Francis Thicke

    Francis, switchgrass may be a better fuel alternative for Iowa farmers than corn, but algae is so far and away superior to switchgrass that you might start looking at how to make THAT an Iowa-sourced fuel.

    On the other hand, Iowa has some of the richest soil in the world (or, at least did when I lived there in the 1950s and 1960s), and that's not a bad place to start. Your thoughts about moving farmers to a more sustainable pattern (local wind power, grazing rather than feedlot) promises to revitalize Iowa farming AND Iowa communities (smaller farms will sustain more people).

  •  Love your platform (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    2laneIA, Justus, Francis Thicke

    Rethinking agriculture is critical for cost, efficiency, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

    A couple of minor points. First, any reference to fossil-fuel based fertilizers inevitably brings out some purist to quibble. Fossil fuels, typically natural gas, is used as the feedstock to produce the ammonia. Calling them inorganic is safer. The real problems with the inorganic fertilizers is what they do to the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles through waste water runoff. The other issue is that with natural gas becoming more popular for electricity generation, their cost will skyrocket, although I think that is a good thing to discourage use.

    Second, farm vehicles look like ideal candidates for electric power and solar cell recharging systems are in the works. If Iowa could somehow pioneer the development, it would be a real boon for the state.

    Please help the people of Haiti

    by DWG on Tue Apr 20, 2010 at 06:27:11 AM PDT

    •  Chemical Terminology Conflict (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DWG

      "Organic" in the chemical sense refers to a carbon-containing chemical.  So the natural gas and the ammonia fertilizer are both organic in that sense.

    •  Farm Energy needs (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      2laneIA, DWG, Justus, Calamity Jean, DiosAias

      Yes, the primary source of energy for nitrogen fertilizer is natural gas.  Legume crops have the capability of converting inert nitrogen from the atmosphere into plant proteins.  So, if we plant a high-nitrogen-demanding crop like corn in rotation after a legume crop like alfalfa, we can forego the need to apply synthetic nitrogen to the corn crop.  That is one big value of diversify our crop rotations.  Certainly, we will need to do more of that as energy -- and nitrogen fertilizer -- costs escalate.

      I would agree that farm vehicles are ideal candiates for electric power from wind and solar.  We should have mid-sized wind turbines on every farm with sufficient wind speeds, and have energy storage systems for storing the wind and solar energy on the farm.

      http://thickeforagriculture.com/index.php

      by Francis Thicke on Tue Apr 20, 2010 at 06:40:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  A Hundred years Ago (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    2laneIA, Francis Thicke

    I recall reading a pamphlet from Iowa State from about a hundred years ago summarizing a plan to provide farm power from the farm itself.  Of course, that was predicated on using horses and/or mules to operate the farm implements.  And using the assumption that the farm would be breeding and raising its own replacement animals.  They estimated that about 1/4 of the farm's production would be required to feed the horses.

    It may not have been the same publication, but I recall that oxen were more energy efficient than horses, but they needed to use smaller equipment, thus requiring more human labor to run a farm of similar size.

    Would it be possible today to estimate the proportion of a farm's production needed to provide "horsepower" to operate the farm?  How about the proportion used to provide replacement horsepower?

    •  Horses (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      2laneIA, DiosAias

      I doubt that many Iowa farmers would consider going back to horses.  Some prefer that on a small scale, but Iowa has a lot of farm ground.  After Cuba lost their Soviet oil and agricultural inputs, they trained hundreds of thousands of teams of oxen to pull their farm machinery.  It is hard to imagine how that could be done on the expanse of Iowa.

      I don't believe we will have to go back to horses or oxen.  I think we have enough promising technologies, and we can be creative enough to farm by harnessing the contemporary energy of the sun (wind, solar, biofuels).  Furthermore, if we harness the efficiency and organizing power of nature's ecology (for example with grass-based livestock systems and crop rotations) we will be able to greatly reduce the energy needs of agriculture.

      http://thickeforagriculture.com/index.php

      by Francis Thicke on Tue Apr 20, 2010 at 07:01:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Not Suggesting Use of Horses. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Francis Thicke

        I doubt the energy efficiency of animal power has changed significantly over the past few centuries.

        I wrote "horsepower" in quotes as a reference to modern machinery that provides the power to farm implements: tractors, and other motorized implements.

        So I was asking for a comment on the proportion of a modern farm's production that is needed to provide power (buy fuel, engine oil, etc.) and the proportion needed to pay for replacement tractors, etc.

  •  Thanks! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    2laneIA, DiosAias, NWIA Granny

    I appreciate the good discussion with all of you this morning.

    Now I have to run off to a campaign event.

    Best,

    Francis Thicke
    Candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture

    http://thickeforagriculture.com/index.php

    by Francis Thicke on Tue Apr 20, 2010 at 07:41:36 AM PDT

  •  Check out Transition Towns (0+ / 0-)

    It would be great if all the communities in Iowa would go the Transition Towns route, which is all about creating resilient communities responding in positive ways to peak oil and global warming threats.  We in Asheville, NC are bubbling with mushrooms of transition neighborhoods popping up all over town, like mushrooms after a rain.

    People Power Granny: Are you ready to leave something for the grand kids?

    by people power granny on Thu Apr 22, 2010 at 07:23:08 AM PDT

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site