Food from a changing world: Innovation is key to the survival of our society, Pt. 17

Seeing as I’ve covered a look into urban restructure and production of goods, I guess I should return to the farm. This has been a reoccurring thought throughout this work. There is little doubt that the world is changing – regardless of what a small group of people will have you believe. I’ve discussed the biophysical indicators previously and it has been demonstrated that the climate or hardiness zones are shifting poleward. Without properly addressing this change, farming will not cope. It will be even worse in poorer countries that have less resources and support. Post-peak oil will make all aspects of farming and transport more expensive. Simply ignoring the problems until there are no other options is mindless. I’ve tried to explain throughout this series just how real change is and how close it is at hand. To wait until it’s irrefutable, until abundant energy is no longer so abundant or until agenda based media makes up its mind of just how strong the scientific consensus is and what that truly means, is to wait to see if the doctor was right in stating the mole is cancerous. The fight is harder when the evidence is beyond overwhelming (for it’s already overwhelming). I’ve also tried to demonstrate some amazing room to be innovative, entrepreneurial and to invest in an increasingly balanced and sustainable world. There is money, there is hope – there is a prosperous new world that can be achieved, but only with a changed social structure.

Back on the farm

Since late 2009, when I began blogging, I’ve discussed farming continuously. It’s probably strange that I’m so interested, as the last farmer in my family was my Dad’s dad. My father once took me to one patch from his childhood, with a crumbling stone building (once his home) resting at the foot of a rolling landscape. I grew up in cattle country down in the Gippsland and spent a little bit of time on the farms down there. I’m not sure where the true root of it sits (for I have a thousand memories at hand), but I’ve always held a strong respect and interest in agriculture and farmers.

Another thing I might note is that in comments on other blogs, I’ve often had others retort that they are multi-generational farmers. This is something on the cards to be discussed outside of this series, however, I would like to say that this is an obvious lie in many cases. It’s easy to make wild claims on the faceless internet, however real life isn’t like that and no farmer I’ve met has ever shot down discussion regarding practices and climate. Sure, most feel that they understand their land unlike any city boy with a degree ever could (and they’re right), but they like ideas and they understand the language of the land. They know things are changing and most also recognise that traditional European-style farming will not continue on Australia’s back. I get wary with posers.

I think that there are a number of social dysfunctions in the younger generations and like the bulk of this series, there are a few social changes that have dramatic implications to radically change potential, profit, food and water security and standard of living. Again, this is something that I’ll look into more outside this series.

What I believe needs to occur is a reintroduction of the local farms (in land opened up from sprawl). As oil prices increase, cheap foreign goods will no-longer be so cheap. There is also a valid point that nothing is fresher than local fresh produce. Sure, transport temperate and tropical produce between latitudes, however what can be grown locally will help the maintain lower prices across the board. On an electrified train system, there will be a greater connectivity without the need of fuel dependant vehicles (that is to say, local networks).

There is a growing buzz about bio-fuels made from agricultural waste. This, plus much of the vegetable oil waste, I feel will provide the bulk of sustainable bio-fuels which can be best applied in agriculture (where most electrification techniques couldn’t meet the industry’s needs). Processing of this material in less fertile areas of agricultural regions could also be predominately on renewables – thus reducing the need to build the grid (or select a region closer to an existing grid) while also reducing the processing costs – again lowering food prices.

Potassium and nitrogen are two limited materials in agriculture. Personally, I have limited working knowledge of potassium, however, I do know that it is often a concern in grey water. As I’ve argued earlier in the series, on-site processing (using on-site renewable energy) of grey water should be adopted, from which the cleaner grey water can be returned for environmental flows and agricultural irrigation (providing some minerals – including potassium).

Nitrogen has a few options. Obviously at present, natural gas provides much of our usable nitrogen. There are a number of other options that could be used as an alternative, but in all, there is the risk of pollution (especially in run-off water ways). Naturally, it is left up to bacteria in root nodules of legume species, to fix nitrogen into a useful form, however, this process could not provide enough nitrogen fixation to feed our growing population. It certainly is the most sensible way to provide nitrogen without as many problems. I would suggest genetic modification (GM) aimed at overly redundant nodule growth on legume species and / or nodule development on other crop species may help solve this problem. Another option might be to produce a land cover hybrid species that produce excessive nodules and also provides continuous ground cover, but is not a consumable itself.  The water retention, top soil protection and continuous injection of fixed nitrogen may overcome costs in maintaining this secondary species (it may also provide a good stock feed). GM may provide the answer or at least assist in a changing landscape.

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7 thoughts on “Food from a changing world: Innovation is key to the survival of our society, Pt. 17

  1. When you talk about food production and land within urban sprawl, are you thinking along the lines of the within city gardening in Havana since their access to fertilisers/ oil was cut off?

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    1. i’m not sure of that example. More, I’m following of from parts 14 and 15. If we developed upward rather than out we could reclaim valuable agricultural land very close to big populations.

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  2. Wikipedia has a quick rundown on the system.

    Organopónicos are a system of urban organic gardens in Cuba.

    I just know I saw something about the minimal fuel usage of Havana / Cuba compared to the rest of the world. I thought it was in New Scientist but it seems not. Have to think again about where it might be.

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  3. Found this pithy quote

    “It now takes the Earth one year and five months to regenerate what we use in a year.”

    at Global Footprint Network, while trying to find (at New Scientist) this 2007 item by Daniele Fanelli

    “World failing on sustainable development”. Only Cuba …..

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    1. Cheers.. I’ll have to look it up – sounds interesting. I’m not surprised that regeneration / production are out of whack. I had some nuclear energy advocates a little while ago bark at me for mentioning “efficiency” – they argued that industry is efficient and has “trimmed the fat” long ago. I disagree; with cheap fuel in mind, cost reduction comes from poorer nations – where they exploit cheap labour and lower waste/environmental management costs (no new thing). It’s never been efficient, nor has it been healthy, but it’s been cheap. With changing rules (ie. both climate and energy supply) we’re in an excellent position to change our practices and bringing to light examples of how this can be achieved is certainly more powerful than the hot air I and others produce! 🙂
      People change when they’ve seen examples that show that it can be done and it will benefit them.

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    2. Clearly that excludes fossil fuels. Tens of millions of years to create; decades to consume.

      Fossil fuels are not just about energy either: synthetics and fertilizers would almost disappear without them, until sustainable alternatives were developed.

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      1. Yeah, in the series I discussed this. Coal is incredibly important for steel production (to use charcoal instead, to achieve the steel production of 2008 would require at least wood harvest around half the Brazilian Amazon). Oil is responsible to a wide range of consumables (most obvious being plastics) but also is the only current option for most long distance travel / shipping. Gas is wonderful stuff that, outside of the BBQ cylinders, modern cars and turbines, is the source of around half of the fixed nitrogen used on crops (without fertilisers, we would be stuck with only with legumes and compost and could in no way produce enough nitrogen to feed the world – yet we use it up and continue population growth).
        The advocates for nuclear power (generation III and IV reactors) say that with this abundant energy we can synthesise many different hydrocarbons, new fuels for air crafts and shipping, fertilizers and can electrify the rest. This doesn’t solve the problem of steel production in the future.
        It makes sense to me to shift to nuclear, but over time and develop various efficiencies along the way. We should preserve these resources for non-energy and flight/shipping.
        I get quite annoyed at deniers and advocates (ie. green/nuclear/fossil fuels etc) because they all selectively look at only fractions of the issues at hand that suit them and all of this means that we fail to properly address the situation. What we’re left with is a few solar panels on public building, a new wetlands (typically on what was once a dump) and a lot of warm feelings.
        🙂

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