> * The talk about sustainability in ag tends toward diversified
> fruit/vegetable production. Has anyone studied energy intensiveness of
> conventional farms (monoculture) vs. the diversified scenario? I realize
[more stuff deleted]
> point me in any direction to answer any of these questions, it would be
> enormously helpful. Thank you!
> Pam Kasey
My sense is that the energy issue is not drastically different in
California than elsewhere -- it sure seems to me, however, that the
major distortion out there is the *water* issue.
California agriculture (including California *organic* agriculture) gets
most of its water at tremendous public cost. I remember talking to a farmer
in one of the state's few *un*subsidised water regions -- he said that
water cost him $455 per acre foot and it took 4 or 5 acre feet to grow
a decent crop most years. A few miles away, the federally subsidised
water districts began, and water was only $18 (eighteen) per acre foot.
How sustainable is an agricultural system that depends on up to $2200 per
acre of water subsidy ?? The amount varies from district to district, and
these numbers are a couple of years old, but the point they make is nevertheless
pretty clear. For a typical romaine lettuce crop the water subsidy alone
works out to more than $2 per box in this example.
I am a vegetable grower (in fact, my family has been in the produce
business in one capacity or another since 1868) and if I make a profit
and send my taxes off to Washington, that money (in effect) is sent
out to California to subsidise the competition.
Meantime, California growers crow that they are simply "more efficient"
than the rest of us, *organic* farmers leading the pack. I'm not so
sure, and I suggest it's well past time we looked at that one.
There are also numbers out that that suggest (can't cite, and I'm
shaky on all but order of magnitude) that if you take an acre out
of ag production in California, stick houses on it at fairly high
suburban density, and let everyone wash their cars and water their
lawns to their heart's content ... total water use is still less than
*half* what it was when the land was farmed.
There's one more bit here (so I can get everyone west of the Sierra
thoroughly annoyed at me...(-: ) about organic agriculture in
California. California organic agriculture is remarkably focused
on finding "organic" materials to replace conventional ones -- instead
of putting the emphasis on whole-farm systems. This is in no small
measure a function of land prices (in turn related to water subsidies
to a significant degree !) which make it cost-inefficient to have
a decent rotation including forages.
The tendency in most of organic agriculture *east* of the Sierra is
to view materials usage (fertilizers, pesticides, etc) as an *adjunct
to* rather than a *replacement for* whole-farm management and conscientious
soil-building, bio-diversity as the cornerstone of pest management, and
To me, the distortions engendered by California's subsidised water
would make a much more interesting research topic than trying to compare
energy use (which may actually be higher in some California organic
operations than in analogous conventional ones).
It's all a particularly fascinating subset of the "organic doesn't
equal sustainable" thread of a few weeks back.