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Peak Food

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posted on Jun, 24 2008 @ 08:59 PM
Since the Industrial Revolution, modern economies have been erected on the "fact" of the ever-falling price of cereal grains. The key factor in this equation has been the United States of America.

Beginning in the Napoleanic era, the United States began producing record surpluses of grain and exporting those products worldwide. One author, David Cannadine, credits US grain flooding the world market as one of the key causes of the key causes of the decline and fall of the British Aristocracy.

In recent times, the average US farm worker has produced food for over 300 people. This level of production is unprecedented in human history; indeed, no other contemporary nation can begin to match this level of agronomic output.

But . . .

With the increasing price of diesel, and the growing demand for maize corn, those levels of production are clearly unsustainable. Every part of american agriculture is predicated on petroleum, from tractor tires to fuel to the manufacture of pesticides to irrigation pumps, American agriculture runs on oil.

And not just any oil. Cheap oil.

And since American farmers will be feeding fewer and fewer people, food will become more expensive. This in turn will drive down the housing markets, as people need more and more of their income to pay for food. A long term bear market in housing means fewer construction jobs (another backbone of the US economy), and bank collapse.


1. At what point will you cross the "convenience threshold," where it's less of a hassle to grow your own food than to pay a farmer hundreds of dollars a week to keep you fed?

2. How will you get your own food, if you don't know any farmers?

3. What steps are you taking to ensure that the world's "food tipping point" is not your own personal peak?

4. Can you see any ways to profit (or increase your social standing) from peak food?


posted on Jun, 24 2008 @ 09:39 PM
At What Point
Considering many families are already breaking even, I don't think it's too far off. I am already witnessing many people trading in their gas-guzzlers for more efficient cars or beginning to talk about it, there are also a lot more motorcycles on the road these days. However, many people don't have the time or knowledge to grow their own.

How To Get Food
Well, you either pay or do it yourself like you said, unless you plan on stealing it.

Steps To Ensure You Stay Fed
At least in the short-term, keeping a good amount of canned/non-perishable hand on food is always a good idea. Learn to hunt/fish, identify edible plants. Maybe purposefully let your yard overgrow with edible weeds... your neighbours will think you're nuts, but when they are starving I bet they won't bother trying to take any of it, versus if they see you have nice big tomatos growing in your backyard.

How to profit
The obvious answer would be... find a way to mass-farm that doesn't use oil! Whether this means making a giant greenhouse/dome or what... relying entirely on sun/wind (you see all those old windmills on farms but most people never know what they are used for...)

Even if you have to resort to using cattle/horses instead of tractors again. If the pay is good enough, are you willing to bust your butt farming "old school" for 6-figures?

Obviously if things got really bad you would need to secure your farm with fences, dogs, etc.

posted on Jun, 24 2008 @ 10:45 PM
I think that urban Americans are so divorced from reality that they have no idea that most crops are seasonal.

when the floods kill off the corn crop in the midwest, all of the corn will be missing AT ONCE.

People generally only respond to a change once it becomes evident that there's going to be a problem. But with food supplies, tobacco mosaic, anthrax, brucellosis, floods or corn smut wreck everything in one shot.

It'll be interesting to see people ripping up the parking lots and freeways to get at the good earth.

posted on Jun, 25 2008 @ 04:08 AM
Interesting Thread

Most of the Western World has had a heavy reliance on Oil/Petrol for quite some years now, probably more pronounced in the US than most of the other countries, hence the gas guzzlers.

As for the growing of produce to feed the Nation, you failed to mention that during WW2 and certainly post WW2, the UK's 'Home Production' actually increased and its reliance on imports fell for basic foodstuffs. It was during the 1950's and 1960's that the UK was pretty close to being self-sufficent and self-sustaining in an Agricultural sense (I am not talking about Oranges, Bananas and other exotic foodstuffs).

I beleive the UK's agriculture peaked just prior to its entry into the European Common Market as the EU was known as then. Its that very entry alone that has really hit home on food production in the UK. The UK on entry was probably the best and most efficient in Europe at agriculture at the time. The EU common agriculture policy (an absolute disgrace) was introduced to ''protect'' mostly French farmers as their farms are small and less efficient in comparison to UK ones. British Farmers were/are actually paid to leave fields fallow and take their land out of production by Brussels - How stupid is that?

When I was younger nearly every family I know just to grow their own (My Father still does) in their gardens or if they hadnt the land applied to the local council for an allottment in which to grow their food. It was during the 1970's that the big multi-national supermarket chains really hit rural Britain and wiped out most small shops including the fruit and veg shops. During the 1980's allottments were sold off for developments. As Britains industrial decline continued and it went over to more of a service industry, people's lifestyles have changed and home-growing has become 'quaint' and is seen as more of a hobby. People's gardens now are more for leisure and show than having a food production function.

posted on Jun, 25 2008 @ 10:30 AM
Telling points, wotan.

As far as the exotics/tropicals go, I think we'll continue to see them, as prices mount.

One of the things that "peak oilers" never take note of is the fact that maritime trade is actually the cheapest mode of transport. I have an article somewhere profiling the fact that it's cheaper to move a home gym from Taipei to London than it is from London to Edinburgh. The same applies to tropical food. So actually, coastal areas may have better access to foods as diesel disappears: trucks will become much more rarer, but shipping would continue.

A HUGE portion of American commerce is based on rails. Because international freight is focused on speed, the US rail system from San Diego to Houston or New York is much faster than ocean-going traffic. Sometimes I wonder if the US rail monopoly, BNI, is pushing congress to increase the price of diesel in order to get market share back from highways trucks . . . .

A problem here will be that much of the best farmland is now owned by giant corporations. While I'm pro-capitalism, it is small businesses and entrepeneurs that respond to changing trends. which means that most of America's farmland will be poorly utilized when oil is no longer available.

As far as WWII goes, my father's family lived in Chicago, and kept a victory garden until my grandfather's death in the 1980's. A style of use simliar to allotments was used in the US, and still exists especially in Chicago.

For comparison, the Former Soviet Union underwent a short term peak food scenario with the fall of communism. A friend of mine lived in Moscow at the time; she said there was no food in stores from 1992 until about 1995. You bought it on the streets or grew it in your yard. She said that some people did starve to death, but not as bad as you'd expect.

The difference of course, was that the Soviet Union had been crumbling for over a decade, and the masses had time to adjust to subsistence agriculture and black market barter. But if the change in the West is abrupt, people in "first world" economies will suffer the most.

all the best.

posted on Jun, 25 2008 @ 11:02 AM
One of the scariest articles you will ever read if you have never thought about where all that stuff at the grocery store comes from:

Eating Fossil Fuels

... it is clear that solutions for these questions, perhaps the most important ones facing mankind, will by necessity be found by private individuals and communities, independently of outside or governmental help. Whether the real search for answers comes now, or as the crisis becomes unavoidable, depends solely on us.

Between 1950 and 1984, as the Green Revolution transformed agriculture around the globe, world grain production increased by 250% ... This additional energy did not come from an increase in incipient sunlight, nor did it result from introducing agriculture to new vistas of land. The energy for the Green Revolution was provided by fossil fuels in the form of fertilizers (natural gas), pesticides (oil), and hydrocarbon fueled irrigation.


In the United States, 400 gallons of oil equivalents are expended annually to feed each American (as of data provided in 1994).7 Agricultural energy consumption is broken down as follows:

· 31% for the manufacture of inorganic fertilizer

· 19% for the operation of field machinery

· 16% for transportation

· 13% for irrigation

· 08% for raising livestock (not including livestock feed)

· 05% for crop drying

· 05% for pesticide production

· 08% miscellaneous8

Energy costs for packaging, refrigeration, transportation to retail outlets, and household cooking are not considered in these figures.

In a very real sense, we are literally eating fossil fuels.

... The U.S. food system consumes ten times more energy than it produces in food energy. This disparity is made possible by nonrenewable fossil fuel stocks.

...if you remove fossil fuels from the equation, the daily diet will require 111 hours of endosomatic labor per capita; that is, the current U.S. daily diet would require nearly three weeks of labor per capita to produce.

Modern intensive agriculture is unsustainable...

I recommend reading the whole article.

I also recommend reading up on what happened in Russia when their economy collapsed and the lessons to be applied in the West.

Here is a three part series of excellent articles by Dmitry Orlov (among many others you can find by him and others like him on the web):

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Believe it or not, Cuba is a model on how to cope with this kind of situation. When the Soviet Union collapsed they lost a good chunk of their subsidies and energy supplies. They came through the crisis with typical Cuban resolve and applied reason:

Surviving Crisis in Cuba
An immediate 53 percent reduction in oil imports not only affected fuel availability for the economy, but also reduced to zero the foreign exchange that Cuba had formerly obtained via the re-export of petroleum. Imports of wheat and other grains for human consumption dropped by more than 50 percent, while other foodstuffs declined even more. Cuban agriculture was faced with an initial drop of about 70 percent in the availability of fertilizers and pesticides, and more than 50 percent in fuel and other energy sources produced by petroleum.


The Cuban experience illustrates that we can feed a nation’s population well with an alternative model based on appropriate ecological technology, and in doing so we can become more self-reliant in food production. Farmers must receive higher returns for their produce, and when they do they will be encouraged to produce. Expensive chemical inputs—most of which are unnecessary—can be largely dispensed with. The important lessons from Cuba that we can apply elsewhere, then, are agrarian reform, agroecology, fair prices, and local production, including urban agriculture.

Read the entire 29 page report in Word format.

A quick search of the internet will show you that the Cuban example is being studies closely by many organizations and groups for good reason. It worked.

It can work for us too, but only if we can get over our prejudices and the ridiculous political ideologies drilled into our brains since birth. Needless to say I'm not hopeful for us.

posted on Jun, 25 2008 @ 12:16 PM
reply to post by Gools

I agree with practically everything in your post, with one exception. the second quote glosses an intractible problem, by saying it's not really an issue:

Expensive chemical inputs—most of which are unnecessary—can be largely dispensed with.

I disagree with this statement vehemently, at least as it applies to US agriculture. A significant cause of America's incredible food output (til now) has been the cheapness of soil ammendments.

The breadbasket of the USA is the central plains. Most of that shortgrass prarie is fairly barren of nutrients. That's why there were no trees growing there when Anglos arrived: the soil lacks important nutrients like iron and phosporus, and has a superabundance of calcium. Any cropland in the central plains that has lain fallow for a decade needs serious ammendments added in order to be economically productive. I'm not talking about nitrogen and ammonia, but about trace metals and fundamental imbalances in ph.

The cost of driving back and forth over a field, unloading bins of iron or sulfates or phosphorus, has not been an issue for farmers since WWII, when cheap foreign sources for those chemicals were secured in Latin and South America.

The one factor that may mitigate the increasing costs of soil ammendment is the use of satelite imagery to profile trouble spots in individual fields, and use of GPS technology to micro-manage the application of specific nutrients only in specific parts of the field that are defficient. But again, that technology relies on a whole host of techniques that society may not be able to sustain when its fighting for mere survival.

Thanks for the articles, they look excellent. Hope the boss takes a long lunch. . . .

posted on Jun, 25 2008 @ 01:37 PM
Monoculture farming like that is practiced over most of the Great Plains is totally unsustainable. Many farms and ranches around to the Texas Hill Country have been converted to game ranching to include buffalo to help return the soil and terrain to a more natural state. According to one TAMU biologist there were 5x as many buffalo in the 1850's roaming just the plains states as are cattle now in all the US. Mother Nature is always better manager than humans are. There's another factor that hasn't mentioned here. The US loses some 2000 acres of farmland to urban development every day. In coastal Texas alone, acreage for rice production has dropped by 60% over the last 25 years. There's a silver lining to the energy/oil crisis. it will slow if not reverse the trend of urban sprawl and it will give small local growers an edge over the agricorp who are heavily reliant on importing foods. We as consumers need to shop smarter as well. Do you really need fresh fruit from South America in the dead of winter? 100 years ago, fruit like grapes, bananas and citrus were considered luxury items that only the rich could afford. I've see them now being sold at my local convenience store. Unless there's a major breakthrough in energy ie zero point, cold fusion or some other exotic, I see the next 50-200 years of human history being some of the darkest imaginable.

posted on Jun, 25 2008 @ 01:45 PM
Of course there could be an upshot of having to grow your own ....... less reliance on the major retailers.

By increasing Fuel prices and therefore the cost of food etc, they would force people to grow their own. Over a period of time, people would get used to this and maybe even like doing it ....... afterall, growing your own is a way of life.

When fuel prices finally settle down and food prices drop, the major retailers may find that they have no customers any more ........ I know, maybe its wishful thinking, but certainly there would be some people that would view it that way.

I can see the headlines ....... ''Major Retailer (insert name) forced to close stores''.

Humans have a remarkable way of adapting to challenges.

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