I’m reading The Omniovore’s Dilemna at the moment. I just read that it now takes 2 energy calories to produce 1 food calorie. Basically modern US farming has avoided the need for sun by securing its nitrogen from fossil fuels. That and a tangle of farming subsidies has led to industrial food production, where the majority of farmers grow too much corn (which is used in everything) and soya (which feeds livestock / meat protein), which they then can’t sell at a profit – so the US government spends $13b a year to subsidise it – which is all just plain crazy.
It had me reflecting on the day that DEFRA, or whatever it was once called, announced that it was abandoning any pledge for the UK to have self-sustaining food production. Can’t remember when it was but I do remember thinking ‘this is odd and somehow not quite right.’ Surely where your food comes from is pretty important, but I’m guessing the economists had done some clever sums and the costs worked out better, whatever abstract instinct I might have had. Though it turns out that this sort of loaded, economics driven farming is actually very risky for all of us.
Today I read that the recent freak weather in the US has left 74% of last month’s US corn as ‘substandard’. And given the insanely complex world of US agriculture I get the odd sensation that no-one knows what the implications will be – other than confusion – which = low confidence – which means market turbulence, which we really don’t need now.
Who ever thought that relying on large, undiversified, single cash crops, across diverse international markets would be sensible? I guess the cynic in me would say Cargill and their ilk – who clearly, as the largest privately owned company in the world, have some clout on this stuff. Either way I have learnt 2 things – we are in for more turbulent times (who after all really thinks that our weather is going to calm down?) and I should probably start growing some vegetables.