Big Oil strikes again, indirectly.

Farmers are pulling their conserved acres out of wildlife preservation programs and putting it back under the plow, because food prices are so high. The farmers win new dollars — the ducks and pheasants lose nesting grounds they’ve had for years.


The essential problem again is oil. Oil is a critical part of any modern agricultural program, because it runs the tractors and it creates and transports the fertilizer, and it transports the raw food to the processors, who turn it into the supermarket products we eat.

So, because of the ways in which we’ve tied our agricultural system to the oil system, when oil prices rise food prices also rise. And now we’re learning that when food prices rise, farmers plant more corn, wheat, and soybeans at the expense of wild or recovering-wild habitat.


I compare this with Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm in Virginia, as described in Joel Pollan’s book, Omnivore’s Dilemma. Joel doesn’t use any oil inputs in the form of fertilizer. He uses his own cows’ manure, and he uses his chickens’ search for grubs and larvae in the cow patties to spread the manure around. He raises grass (no, not like wacky weed, like lawn grass, except not), and places the animals in order to grow the best grass possible. Turns out that process also grows the best meat, the best eggs, and the best vegetables.


But Joel’s methodologies only work within about 100 miles of the farm. Beyond that, it’s not cost effective or appropriate to ship his produce — partly because of his own proclivities, and partly because it degrades his product too quickly. And that’s a problem. The yeast for my bread may be local, but the flour comes from Kansas or Iowa or elsewhere. And food is mighty scarce in New England in winter if the trucks don’t have fuel.


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One comment

  1. The farmers, incidentally, will lose big time. The price of food is higher, but fuel, fertilizer, and shipping costs will eat those profits away. Rice growers in Asia are already feeling this catch-22. Also, as more farming gets done the demand for oil and oil-products goes up.

    On the other hand — I also saw a study that said raising sheep in New Zealand and then shipping the meat to the UK was more ecologically friendly than trying to raise the sheep in the UK. Once you added up the costs of growing Hay and everything else, the total UK inputs were lower than the total NZ inputs (even accounting for shipping around the world). So it’s a very tricky calculation to make.


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