0 Agriculture

The agriculture

Necessary and vulnerable

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Contrary to what many people think, the agriculture is not primarily for the employment of farmers. The main point of the agriculture is actually to put food on our tables.

To fulfill this in a sustainable way, several vital conditions need to be met:

Nutrients need to be provided for plant production

Of all nutrients, phosphorus is the most critical.

For sustainability, there must not be any net loss of nutrients over time, i.e., they must be recycled.

To decrease vulnerability (and increase sustainability), dependence of fossil energy resources must be diminished as much as possible.
Most of what is called improvement of animals and plants used in agriculture actually makes them "lazy". I.e. energy demanding work earlier done by the 'wild' animals or plants are instead done by the farmer, using fossil fuels. The increase in yield will increase the dependence of agriculture on fossil fuels.

The overall effect of this is that fossil fuels are converted into food. By that, food system vulnerability increase.

Counted in energy for energy (see: The rabbit lmit ) the Western agriculture of today is a black box that is used to convert oil into food. The Swedish agriculture has an energy efficiency of about 1:1.03 (1994), and in North America, it is even worse.

Due to the long distance between food production and food consuption sites, nutrients accumulate in the areas of consumption.
This will lead to a nutrient accumulation in the consumption areas, which inevitably will lead to a nutrient leakage from these areas due to the HEAP effect.

The conclusion is that only a local agriculture has the capacity for energy efficient food production and nutrient recycling. Furthermore, of agriculture in the local area, only a balanced agriculture has the capacity to sustainably provide a large part of the human food needs.

Thus, we need a local, balanced agriculture aimed at food supply.

There are also economic effects of the different extremes of agriculture: To provide food over a long distance, a lot of middlemen and intermediate energy use is needed. By that, the food system of today is the most energy demanding activity in everyday life. The economic effects of this system are illustrated in the left pile.

Today, the farmer gets less than a quarter of what is paid for the food in the shop. From the money he does get, about 80% is used for farm maintenance. The fee to the farmer to produce food for 60,000 SEK (or any money unit) in the shop is thus about 3,000 SEK.

Assume instead that a group of consumers would like to change the cost and energy usage structure apparent in the left pile. They 'hire' a personal farmer to provide most of their everyday foodstuff. At the same time, they drive the industry and the middlemen out of the market by offering the farmer double the normal industry contract price. This price is actually about half of what they use to pay for the food in the shop. (Right pile)

If the farmer accepts the offer from the consumer group, he can anticipate an increase in farm operation cost of, say, 50% (increased cost for machinery, animals, diverse seed in small quantities, work etc., since the consumers want a diversity of foodstuff). If he tried this in the normal system, he would soon go into bankruptcy.

But, since he gets the double payment from the consumer group, he gets a lot left over. Actually, his profit will increase 4-5 times compared to what he got before!

This is a real win-win relationship. Consider furthermore that the energy dependence (and vulnerability) of the food system has decreased more than 75 %, and the sustainability has increased to the same extent, provided the agriculture is balanced.

We are not finished yet...

What will the consumer group do with the money they have saved by this intelligent behaviour (red on the figure)?

Assume they continue being intelligent. Then they can use the money to re-invest in their life-support system, in this case the agriculture.

Say, that they will invest all the saved money in the agriculture. Assume they are ten families. This will give a maximum of 300,000 SEK (or money unit of your prefrerence) per year for investment or loan payback.

Assume they use the money for payback of a loan from a bank with 20 years payback time and 5% interest rate. Then they will have almost 4.5 million (money units) to invest in agriculture.

Use this XL-sheet to do your own calculations!

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Updated:
2013-01-06