Hello to all !
At 09:22 PM 5/12/00 -0400, Steve Groff wrote:
> What does this mean to me as a farmer?
> in response to Joel's comments on "embodied" energy and other energy
During the energy crisis, numerous studies were initiated investigating the
total energy cost of agriculture... most were theoretical with little
practical value for farmers and all seemed to vanish like morning dew when
cheap energy returned...
Hidden away in a compilation of energy studies titled "Energy in
Agriculture" edited by W. Lockeretz is a critique of "energy studies" which
is a good summary of what the flood of energy studies in the 70's did and
The critique starts with a list of 6 important ideas revealed by energy
1) The total energy requirements of the food industry is relatively small
compared to other sectors of the American economy.
2) Industrial food production is very energy inefficient. In North America,
agriculture consumes 5-10 times as much fossil energy as is produced in
3) There is large variation in energy efficiency between different crop and
4) Most of the energy consumed in the food industry is used for processing,
packaging and preparation.
5) Agricultural dependence on fossil fuels is quite recent.
6) Technological change in agriculture has been largely energy addictive
i.e. new technologies tend to consume more energy than technologies being
Next follows a discussion of why energy studies have limited value in
defining sustainable agricultural priorities. Basically, the authors assert
that the main problems with American agriculture are a consequence of flaws
in the American political and economic arenas and that energy studies are
not likely to address these issues.
The bibliographic info for this critique is as follows:
Hill, S.B. and J.A. Ramsay. 1977. Limitations of the energy approach in
defining priorities in agriculture. In Lockeretz, W. (ed.) Energy in
Back to Steve's question... "What does this mean to me as a farmer?"
In the current era of cheap energy, the monetary cost of agricultural
inputs is largely decoupled from their energy cost. As long as this
continues to be the case, total energy accounting for agricultural systems
will be very low priority for farmers and will have minimal role in their
Since production of N fertilizer accounts for about 60% of the energy cost
of American grain production up to its delivery to the grain elevator,
farmers that want to decrease the total energy costs of their farms should
focus on decreasing use of N fertilizer.
There are plenty of economic and ecological reasons (that are more tangible
than total energy accounting) for farmers to develop farming systems that
use less N fertilizer.
Elsah, Illinois 62028
(618) 374 - 5289
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