Monday, March 30, 2009

Post-fuel farming

A Farm for the Future is an excellent documentary (shown on BBC last month) by farmer-film maker Rebecca Hosking, on how farmers can overcome total dependence on fossil fuels.

It does a great job of explaining what the problem is with current farming methods, and what the fuel crisis will do to them and to our food supply, and how biodiversity, low-energy methods and good planning rather than back-breaking labour can increase food production enough to feed the world.

The picture's pretty choppy in places (at least on my screen) but the sound is good, and the story it tells, of alternatives to fuel-heavy farming, and hope for a truly sustainable future of food production, is more encouraging than almost anything I've seen lately.

The solution offered is, of course, an English one, suited to an English climate. Cuba's success story in dealing with a fuel-less agriculture is that of another small country with a different climate from our own. The bigger question is how large countries with more extreme climates - Canada, the US, Australia - and well-entrenched and protected industrial fuel-based agricultures can adapt to the loss of fuel.

4 Comments:

Blogger the regina mom said...

I love the concept of post-fuel farming! It seems so forward-looking. I haven't yet watched the video, but I'll look forward to doing so tonight, after I've written and sent off my letters to the Liberal MPs who are threatening to vote against the Climate Change bill!

10:37 AM  
Anonymous Matt said...

There are some great examples of post-fuel farming in the U.S. There is a farm in upstate New York that uses draft horses for plowing and has a year-round CSA share. The U.S. does not have a policy-wide solution but some individual farms are growing food oil-free.

Thanks for posting the video. Great site.

9:00 AM  
Blogger Rhona McAdam said...

Thanks Matt - I love the idea of farming with horses (Wendell Berry did this too I gather): all that fertiliser! I heard of a similar farm to the one you mention that's near Calgary, also a CSA using horses, so it's happening, a bit.

But the bigger battle is changing the agriculture (commodity) industry into something that can feed people. Consider the amount of land we're using in North America to grow commodities: wheat, corn, soya. On their current scale, those farms are unsustainable without oil, so either the kind of crops we grow has to change, or the size of the farms, or the means of doing the work.

As the film suggests, replacing all those 400 horsepower tractors with the equivalent number of actual horses becomes... difficult. Even assuming we had enough draft horses available, feed and stabling for them, the right kind and number of people to work them, the knowledge to work them properly, the physical strength. It's quite a challenge.

And I was struck by the figure quoted by Colin Campbell: that the world's energy supply today, from oil, is equivalent to 22 billion slaves working around the clock.

Lots of questions dangling here...

11:41 AM  
Anonymous Merna said...

I haven't seen the video yet, but I am wondering how the Canadian prairies can be farmed without tractors and other massive implements. Fuel costs most farmers tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars every year...
which is quite often more than they take in. The farm economy is based on the idea of having a good year every once in a while. If they don't get it, the farmers go out of business. My niece and her husband ranch in the Vermilion area of Alberta. Not long ago they tried to think of a single
farm on which there was not at least one member of the partnership --- the farmer or his wife --- who did not have to take an off-farm job to keep the farm going. They could not think of a single farm within fifty miles where that was not the case... and often both members of the partnership had to hold off farm jobs in order to keep the farm in the family.

Farmers would be only too happy to be spared the cost of keeping their machinery running. But prairie farms are huge, and have to be taken care of by one or two people, as a rule. If prairie farms are to continue to do their part in feeding the world, something has to power all those seeders and cultivators and combine harvesters.

But if someone has found an answer, I will be very happy to hear about it.

1:36 PM  

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