The world needs to shift away from intensive agriculture. Its been said as early as the 1980’s by people in the agroindustry that the model was not sustainable. They meant that they where making money by increasing the economic activity and cashflow in farming, but knew this would not last for the simple reason that fossil fuels would run out. Today for every intensively farmed calorie 10 fossil fuels calories are burned.
We wrote about this years ago, and in the mean time several tests shown that production of non-intensively farmed land is about equal to the intensively framed kind, except of course you need to rotate. The crops have become more productive through genetic modification for instance. and no matter how much you spray or fertilize, the weather determines a large part of how crops fare.
Reducing the fossil input in farming to near zero is possible with electric equipment, logistics, fertilizer production (using Wind also written about in this blog). Even pest control can be done by small robots, nutrient application can be highly efficient through the use of satelite or drone data analysis. There was never a better time for farms to go CO2 negative like now.
The biggest problem is the soil. The use of artificial inputs has depleted it, the carbon content is near zero, it has no fungal life to capture nitrogen. And it takes about 5 years to bring that back. The good news is that one can put fungi into the soil (there’s an example from Australia). This shift also makes sense from a water conservation point of view, good soil doesn’t dry out as easily as a lot of water is held as reserve by living organisms.
Now as we wrote earlier, if there was a catastrophic reason for a cut in fossil fuel availability the West would suddenly have a food production problem : The soils would not produce on their own! The “Post fossil food gap” would last 5 years in which the unlucky population would be decimated. Sadly this scenario is now more likely than ever, either because of rising global tensions and because a growing part of the public wants to cut emissions and be more secure.
A global expertise center needs to be created to guid countries that are willing out of their fossil fuel dependence in agriculture, and establish renewable sources to replace for instance the gas inputs into fertilizer production. Other base nutrients have to be recycled and collected using renewables as well. This is a huge undertaking but it can not be started early enough. The positive side is that is is relatively cheap to do it.