BBC Covers Peak Oil: A Farm for the Future

Most would agree the subject of peak oil has not received the mainstream media coverage its importance warrants. On Friday the BBC will be broadcasting an excellent peak oil documentary; it focuses on farming. Presenter and co-producer Rebecca Hosking explores the importance of oil in farming and the potential impact of peak oil. The film has a passionate narrative centred on Rebecca’s small family farm in South West England; can she make her farm fit for the future?

A Farm for the Future
Fri 20 Feb 2009, 20:00 on BBC Two, repeated Sun 22 Feb, 17:00 on BBC Two (and also available on iPlayer).

The subject mater is top notch. Colin Campbell and Richard Heinberg contribute, permaculture, forest gardens, gardening vs farming, biofuels, biodiversity, industrial farming and no-till farming are all covered. It seems certain that present methods cannot go on feeding Britain as they are highly dependent on fossil-fuel. The film concentrates on the necessity to find a new way to feed the nation. For those unable to watch the film, Rebecca has provided a feature length article for the UK’s Mail on Sunday newspaper.

"What we can say without any shadow of doubt is that petroleum man is just about extinct by the end of the century. That poses the thorny, difficult question, will Homo sapiens be as wise as his name implies and figure out a way to live without oil which is the bloodstream of virtually everything." ~Colin Campbell

Above all, the presentation comes from the heart. It is sure to capture the imagination of many people who, not least due to the deepening recession, are primed for new ideas like never before.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this film is that it exists at all. Within the BBC, the Natural History Unit is one of the most conservative. The producers of 'A Farm for the Future' had a tremendous struggle getting this film made. BBC executives were not keen; the big global travellers even called the film "messed up propaganda". However two years after I met with co-producer Tim Green at the inception of the film; it does now exist. The hope is that with the Natural History Unit producing a film with peak oil at its heart, the gates are now open to all the other departments such as News at Ten, Panorama, Horizon etc. to cover peak oil. There is knowledge and understanding of peak oil within the BBC but also nervousness about reporting.

Rebecca and Tim would like to thank the community here at The Oil Drum for providing much of the information needed to make this possible.

BBC Radio 4 had a drama concerning a geologist and peak oil (last year I think) and the Today programme has mentioned the term as has Eddie Mare on PM. I have yet to see them address it during prime viewing time, should be interseting. Thanks. There was a feature this week on the sustainability of farming in the uk on the "You and Yours" programme. Pehaps the message is perculating through the system however slowly.

Anybody know how I can access this from outside the UK?

I'd like to know as well... Raise of hands?
More video links please!

You need to download iPlayer

This is the iplayer link to programme content

The content won't be available until its had its first broadcast, so still a few hours to go.

Caution: the iplayer sometimes blocks IP addresses it thinks are outside the UK. hint try using a proxy server located in the UK.

Can someone post the youtube link when it makes it there?

Anyone got a working link to a uk Proxy server which I can access I-Player with. Spent over an Hour serching to no avail.

A program called "Get iPlayer" I think will work from outside the UK...(this is not iPlayer) should also save the video in different formats.

Available for Windows, Linux and Mac

This was an excellent documentary that really highlights the vulnerability of our food system more than any other peak oil documentary I've seen.

How much diesel is used per acre/hectare for, say, corn?

Nick, their farming is a bit less advanced than our own. I don't think they allow "roundup-ready" seeds, for instance. This would lead to more "cultivation." Less "no-till," I'd think.

Let's put them at about 10 gallons/acre. Maybe, a touch more.

BTW, the UN, through the FAO should be a source for this number if you cared to do a little googling.

Here in Iowa we call that recreational tilling. What in the world are they doing that takes 10 gallons per acre? Raising vegetables and fruit? If they are the UK should be able to feed itself with ease.

Animal agriculture needs less fossil fuel than row crop farming. The energy waste is in the animals themselves since a lot of energy is consumed in just keeping them alive.

Re Farming diesel requirement. In my farming days we ended up using approx. 8-9 Gallon/acre on an annual basis in heavy clay soil. This included 10 passes on each plot. ploughing, compressing, harrow 2 times, sowing, compressing, 1-2 times combined herbicide- fungicide spraying, harvesting, harrowing.
Today with combined machinery you can reduce the diesel expenditure to 4-5 gallon/acre.Maybe a little less in light soils. You can study farm energy expenditures here.
kind regards And1

Yes but nice looking cattle. Limousin. A very good breed. Excellent steaks.

No-till. The way to go but very spray intensive. The planters we use can either do No-till or conventional.

Ifn I was back some years I would go full bore cattle and since my neighbor raises a lot of cattle that is what I would do also. We can trade off bulls that way.


but very spray intensive.

Forgive a stupid question, but what does that refer to? Herbicides?


No-till came from a gentleman named Faulkner,who wrote a book in the 40's called Ploughman's Folly.
He argued that farmers plowed cause they liked to not because it was necessary.(needless to say, at the time, it caused quite a stir ;-) )
No-till is counting on herbicides for weed control. Then no doubt pesticides when the bugs come. And also speaks to an underlying comfort with mono-culture.

This reliance on 'cides' is a problem because many of the broadleaf weeds are becoming resistant to the herbicides. The organic matter does stay higher and it is a superior way to farm from a chemical perspective.

I have had a project in mind. I bought a 'hoe' drill at an auction. (Since the price of no till drills can cause you to clutch your heart)Hoe drills have a metal boot that has some weight to it that the seed falls into and were originally designed to sow seeds in gravelly soil, since regular drills didn't work well as the seed would routinely wind up on the surface. My plan was to put some cultivators and sweeps behind some disks to make raised beds that I could then use the drill for a no-till idea. I don't use herbicides ever! A one time application of a herbicide can kill off all the algea in the soil. This algea is the food supply for many micro-organisms.

Excessive use of the moldbord plow has created a lot of problems. If you plow your fields routinely you will cause the organic matter to be burnt up by the sun and exposure to the elements. You do need to get oxygen, into the ground however. (Jason's use of the broadfork and feeding the worms, in the other thread is a great idea. As is Airdale's sub-soiler)

My strategy is what's called minimum till. Which means that I plow the ground but very infrequently and then follow with an extensive rotation that includes small grain going into hay (legume mix) for several years then pasturing for several years before repeating the cycle. This option is largely unavailable to corporate monoculture.

No-till I take from Fukuoka, not Faulkner. I have no idea whether Fukuoka knew of Faulkner. Wikipedia has this to say:

Trained as a microbiologist in his native Japan, he began his career as a soil scientist specializing in plant pathology. At age 25, he began to doubt the wisdom of modern agricultural science. He eventually quit his job as a research scientist, and returned to his family's farm on the island of Shikoku in Southern Japan to grow organic mikans. From that point on he devoted his life to developing a unique small scale organic farming system that does not require weeding, pesticide or fertilizer applications, or tilling.

The timing and circumstances of Fukuoka's conversion from Western agricultural science, parallels the new movement in the 1940s to organic farming and gardening in Europe and the US, led by pioneers like Lady Eve Balfour, Sir Albert Howard, and J.I. Rodale (founder of Rodale Press). However Fukuoka himself believed that he was going a step further than organic farming:

"The problem, however, is that most people do not yet understand the distinction between organic gardening and natural farming. Both scientific agriculture and organic farming are basically scientific in their approach. The boundary between the two is not clear." (The Road Back to Nature page 363)

I don't see much value to no-till outside the natural farming/permaculture methodology. Exactly as you state, if you do nothing to manage the weeds, but don't till, you are just asking for trouble. It's nothing but spitting into the wind.

It seems to me to be a truism that half-measures typically get you less than half of what you seek.

Thanks for the response.


I read 'One Straw Revolution' and very much enjoyed it. His approach supports greater diversity which is definitely a strong plus to the environment and hence organic mindedness.

I'm sorry to see that the same games (corporate/government screw the small farmer is happening in Britain as it is here in North America (I'm in Canada)) So nods Rebecca and Tim for being 'good' stewards of the land, while being financially penalized with the pretext offered that somehow big is more efficient when in fact the opposite is true (somehow people can't understand what subsidies both regulatory and financial mean). Hence 10 people per acre. Hopefully we can get your documentary over here.

Tonight on tvo (tv Ontario) they are playing: 'The End of Suburbia' with James Kunstler followed by another titled:'Life After Suburbia' so I suspect they would love to play your documentary if you could offer it to them or does BBC own it? (

Larger diversity in plants used as pasture can support a greater diversity and stocking rate of livestock. You can carry a greater number of different livestock on a piece of land than just one type. Sir Albert Howard in his: 'Agricultural Testement' made reference to imo the great British organic farmer:Friend Sykes. Mr. Sykes wrote a great book: 'titled Humus and the Farmer' that you would enjoy. His understanding of pasture management and vermiculture in the 40's was significant as is Louis Bromfields: Pleasant Valley and Malabar Farm. Though I guess there's nothing new under the sun. As I have an 1840's copy of 'Chronicles of a Clay Farm' wherein the benefits of tile draining and using lime were understood.

A return to the use of grain binders or pull type combines with scour cleaners affords a good weed control strategy. Perhaps we have a bizarre notion of growing just one type of crop at a time.
Other than oats/barley few crops are grown together. Furthermore many 'weed's' are great fodder and provide some natural medicinal and anthelmintic help. Older farms used to grow black walnuts around the barn yards so that the livestock could eat the leaves and get rid of their worms/parasites.

It would seem that we 'the civilized' (hmmm!) world made a very wrong turn in the 40's. And 'we' have chosen to ignore the prescient wisdom of people like those mentioned and others like Wendel Berry in pursuit of the 'new' / 'cutting edge' instead of following what has been tested and true.

Cheers all

"Nick, their farming is a bit less advanced than our own. I don't think they allow "roundup-ready" seeds, for instance."

WHAT? You surely mean less moronic than the ultimate it corporate stupidity that goes under the name of farming in the US?


That's what he said. He just said it in "American English".

Farmers in the U.S. got 154 bushels/acre of corn this year. How did English farmers do?

I got your "Muppet."

Hooray! More high fructose corn syrup (empty calories) in our food!

Is that really the only terms you think in? The quantity they managed to grow?

You think you're "advanced" because you're using GM without even testing it properly? Long term trials?

Yield per acre was meaningful in Ricardo's day, when acreage was a proxy measure of the amount of sunlight falling on the crop, but is it meaningful anymore in an age of fossil-fuel inputs galore?

Nick, your Q is irrelevant , learn about EROEI and that will settle your understanding to the matter.

.... As corn ethanol EROEI is so low (1.3 : 1), in USA .....
e.g use 1 gallon of fuel to get 1.3 gallon of fuel, gain is only 0.3 gallon. Seems like a win-win on paper, but in reality there is just alot of "arms & legs" with little gain when the counting is finished.

Google EROEI or search TOD for more.

Do not believe EROEI or net energy analysis. It is false.

It is false on several levels, but the main one is logic. When the energy inputs and outputs are different, they can not be compared. This is what EROEI tries to do. Different energy forms have very different utility, characteristics, price and availability. EROEI ignores all these.

Besides energy is an undefined abstraction just like grain or metal for example. EROEI postulates that the value of the concrete, i.e. ethanol, can me measured by the the abstract. This is preposterous. It is like saying we can decide which form of grain to grow based on grain return on grain invested. Or which metal to mine based on metal return on metal invested.

Net energy is just an extrapolation of the falacious EROEI concept. It is also false for similar reasons.

In any case generic energy is not limited. A new supply arrives from the sun each day. And energy forms like gravity and geothermal are unlimited for all practical purposes. Why then should we care about the generic energy return on generic energy invested?

We should not. The problem is Peak Oil and the liquid fuel energy form used for transport. That is the solution we should be looking for.

EROEI is a distraction and solves nothing.

Besides energy is an undefined abstraction just like grain or metal for example.

Whoa, whoa, whoa!! I was reading along, minding my own business, watching you farmers duke it out, not intending to say anything, because I don't know alfafa from an alpaca. But you went just a tad too far there.

Physics crumbles in face of your assertion, hundreds of years of it. True, better to have physics crumble than agriculture. Still, it deserves a little respect, Newton with his apple, Einstein with his baggy pants, and all that.

It's also true that it is very hard to give a definition of energy that isn't a wee bit circular. But this is true of any fundamental concept in physics. And it is definitely an abstraction. Nevertheless, one of the great accomplishments of physics is the idea of energy and in particular its conservation. This puts definite limits on what can happen.

Different energy forms have very different utility, characteristics, price and availability. EROEI ignores all these.

Yes, it does. Energy is like money at a bank (ok, this used to be a good analogy) -- it has to add up. Behind all the different forms of energy, there is a quantity (call it abstract if you want), so they can be compared in that respect, and it sets limits on what can happen. Energy must be quantitatively conserved. There have not yet been any exceptions found, not anywhere, except in quantum mechanics, and there only in the very shortest intervals of time, where energy can sort of be borrowed as long as it is paid back right away (I won't mention banks again).

Indeed you are right. Maybe it would help to define units of measurable energy.
BTU (british thermal unit).

These are all very measurable and very real.

Keep on trying, I'm with you. Just don't TOUCH his subsidies!

Do not believe EROEI or net energy analysis. It is false.

You wouldn't happen to be an economist, would you?

I must not know how to calculate. Maybe you can help me out.

I use 5 gallons of diesel to raise 154 bushels of corn (plus 2,700 lbs of DDGS. This means I've used 5 gallons of diesel, and .6 of my acre to produce 450 gallons of ethanol.

Union Pacific uses 1 gal of Diesel to ship 100 gallons of ethanol 1,200 miles (about the "average" distance.)

My Question: How many gallons of diesel did I use to produce a gallon of ethanol?


That's awfully far from statements from Robert Rapier, or the sources on which he relied, of .2 gallons of diesel to produce a gallon of ethanol. Where does the big difference come from? If he's wrong, how did he make such a big mistake?

More than you're implying because you left out bringing in seed and fertilizer, and hauling the corn to the distillery.

You're also leaving out the energy used at the ethanol plant and the fertilizer plant. I grant that neither is diesel, but both could be if fed through a GTL or CTL plant.

" bringing in seed and fertilizer, and hauling the corn to the distillery."

So you're talking about the transportation costs for these? It really doesn't sound like much, given that a truck can haul 40 tons of these things for 7 miles per gallon: that's only 1 gallon to haul 5,000 pounds for a hundred miles. That sounds like less than the fuel needed to take the ethanol 1,000 miles to market.

Could you quantify that, say, per gallon of ethanol? It would be nice to actually get a handle on these things.

Figure 3 gallons of ethanol from every bushel of corn. It's close enough for guvment work.

Now, really, I gotta admit, the 5 gal/acre is a little optimistic. That's the number for the notill/lowtill guys. About 40% of corn is still raised the old way which uses about 8 gal/acre. So, really, I should have used something like 6.5 gal/acre; but the difference in the final total is so small I didn't bother breaking out the calculator. Plus, the movement is rapidly to the notill/lowtill direction; just like the movement in the refineries is toward burning the cobs, or other biomass rather than nat gas.

"I should have used something like 6.5 gal/acre;"

And does that include the "bringing in seed and fertilizer, and hauling the corn to the distillery", or is it just the diesel used on the farm?

I'm tried to put together something reasonably complete and mildly authoritative...

Nick, that would be "on the farm." You are on the right track with your numbers for transporting the seed. That's why I put up the 3 gal/bu number.

"You are on the right track with your numbers for transporting the seed. That's why I put up the 3 gal/bu number."

Ah, I'm not quite following you. Do you mean transporting corn?

Ok, to nail down this small detail: roughly how many pounds of seed and fertilizer (and any other bulk supplies you can think of) would be needed per acre?

Yes, Corn.

I make that goofy juxtaposition all the time. Danged if I know why.

I no longer remember how many seeds per acre, but it's very minor from an energy standpoint.

So, 56 lb/corn bushel, and 3 gallons ethanol per corn bushel, so 18.7 lb/gallon of ethanol.

1 gallon diesel to haul 5,000 pounds gives 1 gallon diesel to 267 gallons of ethanol, or .4 gallons diesel per 100 gallons of ethanol.

If we add farming operations consumption of 6.5 gallons of diesel per acre and 450 gallons of ethanol per acre, we get 1.4 per 100 for farm diesel.

We've got 1 gallon of diesel to move 100 gallons of ethanol 1,200 miles by rail.

That gives a total of 2.8 gallons of diesel per 100 gallons of ethanol. If we assume 1.38 gallons of diesel per gallon of ethanol, we get 3.9 gallons of liquid fuel input per 100 gallon of output.

Anybody have any comments on this??

Looks like reasonable numbers to me, Nick. Good Luck with your Study.

1) You should probably also include the energy cost of irrigation pumps wtc. in areas where irrigation is required to grow corn. Even if your own farm uses no irrigation to supply the local ethanol plant, the fact your corn is withdrawn from the food / feed market means someone out in Nebraska who needs irrigation will have to grow the corn for that market.

2) What about crop drying the corn? Does the corn that goes into ethanol production usually get moisture controlled first?

Only about 4% of the corn used for ethanol is irrigated, Lengould.

And, Here's the Kicker. We're producing more corn, and more ethanol; but we're farming fewer acres.

I guess the "drying thing" would depend, somewhat, on the time of they year. X needs to address that. He's right up there in the middle of the whole corn/ethanol thing.

I hadn't seen the energy costs of alcohol production in this thread, especially distillation.

That's because I started this thread by asking about diesel inputs. I was curious about liquid-fuel return on liquid-fuel investment. The thread really started with Rembrandt's charts on liquid fuels that include biofuels, and a question about whether those biofuels should be adjusted for liquid fuel inputs.

Distillation energy would come from natural gas (or cobs, or coal, unfortunately).

What did you think of my summary of liquid fuel inputs?

It sounds like you used 5 gallons of diesel (plus land) to raise 154 bushels of corn.
But it takes a lot of energy to take corn and distil it to ethanol doesn't it?

There's some numbers on EROEI for ethanol production here:

Canadapeaker, the average new plant will use about 25,000 btus of nat gas and about IIRC a half a kwh of electricity in the production of a gallon of ethanol.

Many are starting to move toward burning the corn cobs for process energy. Also, the plants are becoming more efficient, monthly, in the distillation process. The amount of energy used is dropping, constantly.

Also, and this goes toward X's argument, I feel a gallon of ethanol should be credited with 100,000 btus, in that that is about the amount of work it can do in the average modern engine as compared to gasoline, the fuel it replaces.

I know this will create a firestorm, but you have to consider Octane, as well as btus, when comparing fuels for an IC engine. BTU's are only "half the story."

Also, Frank brings up a good point. You need to include about 6,000 btus of nat gas in the fertilizer for every gallon of ethanol.

Edit: Although, 2,400 of those BTU's should be charged off toward the DDGS. Which would leave about 3,600 BTUs/gal.

I'm afraid I don't understand how you can consider Octane, C8H18 (a compound) with BTUs (a unit of energy)?

CP, I should have referred to OCTANE RATING.

Ethanol has an extremely high "Octane Rating," (about 114 AKI) thus can undergo insane levels of "Compression," thus yielding great amounts of horsepower (that thing that, actually, really, does "Work."

Edit: For instance, THIS CAR picks up an astonishing 212 hp when using E85 vs 95 Octane gasoline.

Hi kdolliso - thanks for the figures and the links. If you still check this thread please can you check the estimates below:

From the MCGA page I get 2007 total figures of 679million gallons from 250million bushels = 2.72gall/bushel = approx the 3gall/bushel you mentioned. I didn't see a figure just for corn production but it gives approx 15m acres for corn and soya so if we take your 150 bushels/acre and the 250m bushels figure that gives about 1.6m acres req. for ethanol = over 10% of the land in prod. for corn and soya. Am I on the right track here?

If we take avg US annual car mileage at 12500miles and avg consumption of 25mpg the avg. fuel use/annum per car = 500gallons. So at the current 2.72 gall/bushel and the 150 bushel/acre rate that gives approx 400gall/acre. So each car needs 1.25 acres if it running on ethanol from corn. Quick google suggests 250m registered cars in the US so say 300million acres if all those cars are in use at avg. mileage and mpg rates. The MCGA page gives total US ag land at 900m acres so approx 1/3 of this could be needed to produce the ethanol req. for a total fleet switch with no other measures taken. This is also approx 200 times the 1.6m acres estimated above in current ethanol prod. - how would this affect food production?

Re: the 1000bhp CCXR - amazing technology but IMO really sad to see something so out of step with any useful needs. What is US speed limit? If this level of skill and sophistication went into fuel econeomy then maybe ethanol would have a chance of running maybe 3 cars/acre at 100mpg.

Re: x and his EROIE views - for interest did a quick check on the sums and I make it incoming solar per year/acre = approx 24hrs*3600secs*365days*180W/m2(avged for 24hrs over the year)*4000m2 = 22e12J vs. out going ethanol of 400gall*90MJ/gallon = 36e9J. I make that approx 0.15% EOut/EIn. For comparison production solar PV is approx 15% efficient EOut/Ein so 100 times better. So with elec vehicles it would be getting towards 300 cars/acre at eq. elec consumption of 100mpg.

Lots of detail missed above but FWIW my view is ethanol has something to offer in the short term but long term we need more radical changes. Whilst I type the radio is covering the current collapse of the european car industry - like the US situation it is not pretty.

Please check the figures above - sorry if I've made any bobos, all back of an envelope stuff.

"The MCGA page gives total US ag land at 900m acres "

I'm puzzled by that - I've always seen numbers around 300M.

Hi Nick - from kdolliso's link to the Minnesota Corn Growers Assn. page:

"The 2007 Agriculture Census shows a dramatic drop in ag land usage between 2002 and 2007. The total land in farms in the United States dropped from 938,279,056 acres in 2002 down to 922,095,840 acres, or a loss of more than 16 million acres in US agriculture. Land use in Minnesota reflects the same trend: a drop from 27,512,270 acres in farms down to 26,917,962 acres, or a loss of more than 500,000 acres from farming. That’s a two percent drop in Minnesota farmland at the same time that Minnesota’s ethanol production was more than doubling".

The other figures I used are sourced from that page (worth a look), kdolliso's figures and quick google checks. Another check worth doing would be comparison to the gross US oil for transport figures:

From I get approx 275e6 barrels/month gasoline product supplied. This gives approx. 275e6b/month*12month*42gall/b = approx 140e9 gallon/annum. So divide by 400gallon/acre gives approx. 350million acres req. to replace gasoline with ethanol.

EDIT - should have clarified my first comment above: I think the MCGA page reference to corn and soya land use is for Minnesota.

I have been trying for years to trace a documentary from the UK that was screened on either the ABC or SBS network in Australia in the early 1990s. I am pretty sure it was a BBC production and was a 3 part series on the limits of the energy systems of Earth.
It was called 'prisoners of the sun', or the 'suns captives' or something with a similar meaning and was amazingly prescient.
Can anyone out there help me with any information, particularly where I might get a copy of the series?

Equilibrium here you go... " Prisoners of the Sun"

Series producer was Mike Salisbury and the series was made by the BBC NHU ( Natural Histoy Unit ) 1992.

But I have no idea how you acquire copies maybe try BFI and see if they can point you in the right direction???


Thanks, most grateful.
I'll see what I can find.

If it was made by the BBC you should be able to order a DVD here:

The iPlayer is a great resource, but can only be viewed in the UK - I believe. There's an increasing number of programs on Aunty that our audience would benefit from viewing. So is there any reason that the iPlayer should not be made universally available?

Lets face it, everyone soon will want to leave Britain - and it would be good if we could still follow the Beeb whilst in exile:-)

Euan - your proposal that "everyone will soom want to leave Britain" deserves much repeating,
to the point where emigration accelerates greatly -

The sooner this beautiful country is free of the tendency to apathetic defeatism, that saps the will to face up to the problems of climate destabilization & energy shortage effectively, the better.

Can you clarify whether you'll still be with us ?



Horizon earlier on in the week, a very good programme on the development of Nuclear Fusion, did sort of intimate the threat of peak oil, but only by suggesting we need to move away from relying on fossil fuels as they won't last for ever. Although it brushed over it, the numbers they crunched in trying to produce enough energy from nuclear fusion, wind, solar, biomass etc to replace fossil fuels was very alarming. (eg. 2 1/2 nuclear reactors a week I think from memory!!)

Unfortunately it takes time, a lot of time, for things like this to perculate through from being an extream position that few people have even heard of, to one where we all accept it and that something needs to be done. Just look at the acceptance of climate change and global warming. Kyoto is how old? Yet only now are we starting to really make some inroads into the issue. Unfortunately time is not something we have a lot of.

But fortunately the message is getting out there, tied in with climate change and "energy security".

How powerful would a fusion reactor be? If it needs an impossible 5000 fission reactors to be built at a rate of 2.5 a week, how many and at what rate would the fusion reactors be needed? I didn't understand how that segment of the programme related to the message that fusion was the future.

I also though it strange that on several occasions Brian Cox was standing in the middle of a desert pointing up at the sun, bathed in energy flowing from that fusion reactor 93 million miles away, and never mentioned that perhaps we could harness all this energy landing in the desert. Why build a Sun on Earth when we have a perfectly good one in the neighbourhood?

Also curious what our helium emissions would be like if powered our civilization with fusion. I know its a largely inert and most noble gas but we've yet to try filling our atmosphere with it.

Nevertheless, really enjoyed the film and Brian Cox is a pleasantly understated presenter in a world of TV hyperbole

But comercial nuclear fusion is 40 years away. It has been 40 years away for a long time and, according to the Peculiar Theory of Relativity, always will be 40 years away, no matter how fast sientists and engineers work.

That 2 1/2 reactors per week agrees with a calculation I made last year on what it would take to replace just the billion tons of coal America burns per year with 1 Gwe reactors over a 20 year period. I concluded a new reactor project would need to be started every 34 days. That is just to replace coal. If we were to go to a 100% electric economy we could likely need 5 to 10 times as many starts per year. It is numbers like that which feed the doomer side of me. It would take severe restrictions on the manufacture of many common consumer goods to get the job done and I don't see how such an effort is politically possible for such a long period of time.

Much easier, faster, and cheaper to build wind power.

We'd need only about $2T of wind investment to completely replace coal in the US, and power all light vehicles. That would be cheaper than the status quo, all told.

To do it with wind requires 88 MW of generating capacity every day for 20 years.

You haven't finished your comment, because you haven't shown why that's a big deal.

That's only 32GW per year. That's quite comparable to the average amount of generation the US installs every year. We did about 8.5GW last year in wind alone, IIRC, and expanding that to 32GW would be no big deal.

No big deal at all.

"If we were to go to a 100% electric economy we could likely need 5 to 10 times as many starts per year."

Not really. Electrifying all light vehicles, which account for 45% of US oil consumption, would only require an increase in generation of about 17% (220M vehicles x 12K miles/vehicle x .25KWH/mile = 75GW). The same thing applies to air-source heat pumps for space heating.

Electricity is much more efficient than oil and gas.

It was a very good, beautifully photographed programme about how we could feed ourselves after the oil peak.

Rebecca - thank you for this 5***** program. A truly excellent documentary, from the heart, award winning material.

This deserves a much wider audience. If we can put our hands on a bootleg copy then we'll stick it on uTube and from there on TOD.

Campbell and Heinberg were great and the 3 contributors you had from "the farming world" were very knowledgeable and authoritative.

Would you like to do a 500 word guest post for us called "The provenance of a ham sandwich" - and you forgot to mention the plastic wrap.

To conclude I'd like to quote from Richard Duncan and Walter Youngquist, "Encircling the peak of World Oil Production" 1999 - one decade ago...

OIL MORE THAN ENERGY - Very importantly, oil is also a raw material for myriad products including medicines, paints and plastics. Oil and its close companion natural gas, are the bases for thousands of other petrochemical products, especially chemicals to promote crop growth and to defend against insects and disease. Bartlett (1986) correctly states that modern agriculture is simply a way of converting petroleum into food.

That was an absolutely brilliant programme that brimmed with positivity. The world does not come to an end, it changes, might be difficult but it can be done.

Interesting to see that the National Trust is opening their/our land to around about 100,000 allotments, gardners can get incredible yields from small plots. Almost tempted to start growing some potatoes myself!

Thanks again Rebecca.

Hi Euan and Chris,

Big thanks for putting this link on TOD, but more importantly thank you all for keeping this place going. The Oil Drum has been such a great resource for us while we made this film but perhaps more importantly it continually reminded us both that we weren't mad. After a little bit of reading it seemed clear to us that the emperor was indeed naked but surrounded by a society and industry that insists on seeing clothes, the TOD community offered a lot of moral support.

Thanks to all and good luck

Rebecca and Tim

P.S talking about clothes Nick you sprung us.
We got everyone to dress smart for the days of filming. We wanted the public to listen to what they were saying not fixate on what they were wearing, even me - none of us were to look like characters out of TimeTeam, that was our long running joke which had the permaculture guys giggling. Normally they just wear nylon loincloths. :)
Note: Richard is even in a suit! you should have seen how fast he took that jacket off at the end, poor guy must have been boiling over there in CA.

Rebecca, economic and financial cycles will tend to mask some of the underlying fundamentals. The World population is still growing. And shifting climatic belts, albeit due to natural or anthropogenic climate change, is stressing agricultural output in some of the major food producing areas - USA, China and Australia. The economically accessible supplies we have of fossil fuels has not changed - though we do not yet have a precise understanding of what is meant by "economically accessible".

A rational thought is that confronted with energy decline, agriculture would be prioritised, but rather than that, in this mad country of ours, farmers are still frowned upon - fox hunting devils.

I learned a great deal from your film, made with great skill and a good sense of balance. A few things that are certain. First, telling the future is more easy than getting the timing right. Colin Campbell made this point well. Second, despite its energy wealth, the UK is placed worse than most OECD countries owing to the utter incompetence of our leaders. Unfortunately right now the opposition leaders are as bad. Vince Cable is the only guy speaking consistent sense.

Import food, import oil, import coal, import gas, import cars - export worthless derivatives and hot air!

Uh, nevermind.


Superb bit of television. In 50 minutes Rebecca Hosking really covered the issues. Clearly permaculture offers some interesting solutions, but raises questions. Could it really feed 10 people per acre? Chestnuts are proposed as an alternative to cereals. Having gathered chestnuts from the woods (in Italy where they grow abundantly, and make decent sized fruits) I know what a laborious and prickly procedure it is to prepare them - and you have to boil or roast them to get the shells off... These English permaculturalists seemed very well dressed. Cotton, wool, leather. They might need to set aside quite a bit of land to provide that. Hemp perhaps. How much woodland would they need to allow a renewable supply of fuel for heating, cooking? Yes, it might work in a future where there are far fewer people, which brings us back to the population issue which was rather uncomfortably discussed in a recent TOD post.

What a brilliant programme! Does anybody know how I can contact the presenter to congratulate her?

I'm here

We're here most nights, but we tend to lurk more then post,

Thank you so much. I'm very encouraged that this message went out on mainstream prime time TV. It should be a great contribution to raising awareness. I am one of the urban masses but I see peak oil -> food (in)security as potentially devastating to the UK.

It was fascinating to see the work of your interviewees. The programme leaves me wanting to ask more questions. Are there many other farmers yet ready to make the changes needed? What is the answer to the average age of 60 for farmers? What happens to small farms when farmers retire? Are they bought up by farming conglomerates?

Thanks again. I look forward to the sequel!

Hi live4ever okay to answer your questions

Are there many other farmers yet ready to make the changes needed?
Depends on the farmer, and what type of farm they run, the organics guys are now very aware of Peak oil, very aware.
However they make up less then 5% of our farming community.
Most farmers are so locked into NPK, pesticides and selling large they don't want to think about it, although the NFU is now beginning to talk about peak oil a little to it's members...hhmm!!

What is the answer to the average age of 60?
Good question, simple make British farming a more profitable less centralized system and stop allowing the supermarkets dictate the rules.
The only way i can see forward is for farmers to sell directly but that will mean building relationships with their local communities.

What happens to small farms when farmers retire?
The sad and usual answer is until this year ( recession) and I'm not pointing fingers but they are broken up, the farm house is sold with two fields as pony paddocks the barns are converted into holiday homes and the rest of the fields are sold to larger farms in the area or hedge-fund types as land investments (recently become more popular as the property market tanked)

The massive allotment waiting list shows there is the demand there for younger people to get into food production but the existing status quo doesn't make that very easy

But there are exciting projects about. CSA's Charity run farms for young farmers and for the urban masses Rosie Boycott is now head of London food committee ( I think it's called that) and by 2012 using the Cuban idea - they are utilizing over 2000 abandoned brown field sites , parks and derelict areas in London to grow veg for the olympics, however Rosie is of the opinion that these sites stay growing food for London long after the games have finished.

AAah No sequel I'm afraid , we're now farmers:)

oooh this is good, you want to know what British farmers think of peak oil and our film....well read this..:)

Hi redthefox.

Still blown away by the programme.

Thank you for burning the midnight oil (woops poor metaphor!)to reply to my questions. Hope you can help with my three follow up Qs.

Good to see from your link that British Farmers still have a sense of humour.


I'm still exercised by that average age of 60. I worked for a few years in manpower planning for a major UK nationalised industry. If we'd had 115,000 key workers at that average age we would have been extremely concerned (to put it politely) and working flat out on programmes for recruitment and training. If true, and I don't doubt it, that statistic alone should cause UK PLC/DEFRA to get up and do something. They are doing something aren't they? Even without seeing the age profile, it seems we are inevitably faced with a serious loss of skilled manpower of around 10% per year!

I'm guessing from your answer to what happens to farms when farmers retire, that a large proportion of the ideal replacements, ie farmers' children, are not in the frame for taking on the farm as you have done. I'm also guessing your proposals for increasing profitability/building community links/curbing supermarkets' power etc would make it more attractive for this "lost generation" to return and perish the thought, to attract new townies.

I'm not sure from your programme how you see the size of the labour force changing. On the one hand it seems we'll have to replace a proportion of that oil-derived horsepower with manpower and real horsepower. On the other hand you hold out the longer term hope of smarter eco-compatible farming and potentially higher yields.

Q1: How do you see the size of farm labour force over the next twenty years?


Your answer about what happens to small farms looks like bad news - it seems the factory farming is winning hands down.

Q2: How has the recession changed the trend to break up small farms?

Q3: Is there an opportunity here to preserve the small farms and use them to train up a new breed of green farmers?

Finally it's good to see that the BBC feedback site is humming and there's a clamour for a follow-up. Hope you can be persuaded. I've never commented to the Beeb before, so my 100% positive review awaits vetting by the moderator.

Thanks again for a great programme and for being available to your public!

Hi live4ever, ( sorry for the delay in relying)

Well heres the rub, DEFRA don't actually keep the stats on how many farmers we currently have and their average age, those stats came from the NFU, soil association and the NFO. ( I checked with all 3 to make sure we were correct )
When I phoned DEFRA to ask they hadn't got a clue and just don't hold them. But when I quoted what the other organizations said the press lesson guy said " yeah that sounds about right" .
DEFRA work on actual "farms" as in who they subsidize, which is over 300,000 and when I say "Farms" that can be anything from Tate and Lyle, Cadbury's, Prince Charles (so most of Cornwall) to some dear old granny keeping 3 sheep on an acre.
As for DEFRA worrying about it a big NMFP mate !!!
Or - to quote Prof Tim Lang, government adviser and Head of food policy University of London.
" The corridors of Whitehall still think we have an Empire that will feed us above themselves" The other great quote from Tim Lang about our governments official food policy was " Seems to me our governments official food policy is leave it to Tesco's".
In short they do not have one, it's very similar in many ways to their energy policy, you know the drill " oh don't worry your pretty little heads about it we are big global players and there's plenty of all of this to go around"

Q1: How do you see the size of farm labour force over the next twenty years?
Tricky questions, it really depends on what happens to the supermarkets because while our food is centralized to keep cost down its going to be factory farmed minimal man power.
However I read with interest an article last year from I think it was the retail consortium (I think not certain???) , anyway stating that if oil had hit $200 a barrel, Tescos would have gone bust pretty quick. I also learnt that every penny added to the price at the pumps last year cost ASDA an extra 1/2 millions £ a week!! in UK motor transport of their food alone.
However just with the banking fiasco and credit crunch, only with lobbying from big agribusiness, I can see our government desperately trying no matter how stupid and impracatical it may be to keep the status quo of the centralised food system for as long as possible.
Do remember 80% of us buy our food from supermarkets and of that 80% - 75% is brought from just 4 major names.
Very powerful people that will hold on to the bitter end even when the walls are falling round them before they give up.

Also the work force will depend on how much machinery we'll use in the future, I guess if you pare it down in an oil depleted world fuel is going to prioritised to the food growers, we already have it now with Farmers red diesel, (although if that happens farms are going to be targeted by the desperate- we have a brief glimpse of this last summer. When many farms around here were broken into at night and the diesel stolen, even had intruders trying our diesel tank lucky that time for us our sheep dogs woke us up , and the dogs went for would-be thieves and scared them away.)

However, with regards to producing your own food, that is what we tried to say in the film, it can't go back to serfs working the land for wealthy landowners, and worrying images of back to the land polpot style.
Thats why we researched into every type of growing system and found permaculture to be the most food for the least work done on a small scale ( if the gardener is really proficient, a huge amount of food) even tiny scale. What was not shown in the film is many permaculturists grow pretty much all their veg in tiny gardens even in rasided beds and plant holders on small patios.
We also didn't have time to feature community garden shares schemes or CSA's and I mentioned Rosie Boycotts system in London well another system well underway is urban veg growing in Middlesborough.
Middlesborough council now have over 2000 growers ( think it's about 2000) growing huge amount of veg within the city limits on waste ground.
Also, looking at London, whenever I drive on the M25 which is not often because I hate it but when I do I look at that green belt, now just unsed or has pony paddocks on it.
Going back to Prof Tim Lang, I remember him saying until WWII that land was used to feed London everyday, I think it was about 30/40% of London food came from the ten mile net area around London, all of this could be modilized but I guess only when we have the national will to do so. ( but obviously we have so many more people to feed now!!!)

Q2: How has the recession changed the trend to break up small farms?

Well we always say farming works in different circles to the rest of the economy, while everyone else in the country was enjoying the boom years farming was struggling, now the country is in recession farming is doing okayish, and we're not sure if that is just in comparison to say car manufacture and housing who are in a downward spiral or if farming has been hammered so badly in the last decade it can't get any worse. Thats not to say farming is high and dry and depends which branch of farming - we still have two dairy farmers a week going out of business and now most of milk comes from places like Holland and Ireland.
So in short farming has faired better then most with this recession, as for break up of farms, well I still see farms for sale with planning approval on the barns it's just nobody is buying them.

Q3: Is there an opportunity here to preserve the small farms and use them to train up a new breed of green farmers?
Well organisations like Soil Association, Schumacher, National trust etc are buying farms and buying more of them these days, to do just this.
But as you can imagine these farms have big waiting lists , just like british allotment lists, and with the recession there has been a tendency for more wishing to return to the land. The Tom and Barbara Good syndrome we call it.

oh and while I'm here talking of corporate interests, didn't take them long to lock onto us.
Beautifully written I have to say , but two big give aways, one the way it rocked up the google search when you type in " a farm for a future" and two the last line "They called themselves Reds, but as my Ould Da used to say, they were really more like fanatical Greens."
Yes we mustn't rock the status quo must we??? !!!

Apologies for repeating Nick the Gardener's question;

But could 1 acre of 'forest garden' ever possibly feed 10 people ?
10 adults? 10 adult men?

It seems like a bold claim and kind of stood out for me.

I know the 10 people an acre seems like an extravagant claim but I am quite happy to accept it as a ball park figure. Firstly, Dr Martin Crawford who mentioned the figure in the film knows more about forest gardening in a temperate climate than anyone else. Secondly, a brief look at the yield figure from something John Jeavon's bio-intensive growing system shows how a roughly two-dimensional gardening set-up can produce up to 5 times the yield per acre as a conventional farm (think that works out about 25 people fed per acre). A forest garden will have a lower yield by nature of being a less work intensive system but equally gains in yield from its better use of the vertical dimension. Forest gardening is in a comparative infancy in temperate climates but i think there's good reason to think Martin Crawford was actually being quite conservative in his estimate.
As two of our advisers on this film said - John Watson (founder of Riverford organics) and Professor Martin Wolfe ( Head of Wakelyns Agroforestry research centre) - they both describe Martin Crawford as unknown prophet in his own country, Martin's world renowned yet we know very little of his work here,

We were initially skeptical of "10 people an acre" as well...I guess we are all culturally locked in to thinking modern industrial agriculture is the height of potential productivity. In truth the only measure by which industrial agriculture can be said to be efficient is in human labour terms

I guess we are all culturally locked in to thinking modern industrial agriculture is the height of potential productivity. In truth the only measure by which industrial agriculture can be said to be efficient is in human labour terms

That's a very good point. We don't seem to have optimised anything except labour efficiency, shame when labour is one of the very few resources not facing increasing stress.

It's not just agriculture, everything seems to be geared to labour efficiency. Even the tax system. There a large taxes on labour (income, national insurance) let low taxes on raw materials and energy. Wouldn't it be better to shift the tax burden away from labour and onto physical resources? Processes and companies would be rewarded for resource use efficiency whilst not so peanilised for labour intensive activities. End result, more jobs and less resource use.

Does anyone know if this idea has been formulated coherently? Is anyone supporting this kind of shift?

Brilliant. I really like that idea. Eliminate income taxes from labour wages, increase taxes on all other products according to their energy content, to counterbalance the budget. Since workers would no longer be contributing 45% of their wages to income taxes, they would be willing to work for significantly lower wage levels, thus helping employers. Employers could afford to keep a lot more workers earning wages, and the aded costs of items like robot automation with their high energy content (steel, aluminum, plastics) would further shift the balance.

It sort of bugs me to see the local supermarket introducing computerized self-checkout in the midst of 8%+ unemployment.

Today we have reports of half a million losing their jobs last month in Russia, maybe 20 million in China in the last three months. Mobilising the vast underused resource of human labour to do useful work has to be the major issue of time.
There is so much to do and so many people doing nothing.

I brought up a similar problem on the vehicle efficiecy post concerning my job as mobile engineer and any other travelling job for that matter.

Its cheaper for companies to employ a few people who do this sort of work and make them travel long distances to cover the entire country than it is to have more people distributed around the country with less work. We have no concept to the real value of energy. This is the hoax of the free market. JHK has hit the nail on the head in his book TLE.

"A forest garden will have a lower yield by nature of being a less work intensive system "

How do you think it would compare to conventional farming? Would it take a lot more labor per food item? Can we roughly quantify the difference (25% more, 100% more, etc)?

I get into a bit of a snit when people make comments such that Permacutlture/Natural farming/etc. can't produce much and lead to a horrible life of 18 hour days. From everything I have gotten my hands on from people actually doing this stuff, it's all a bunch of bull poo. I can only assume those who think otherwise aren't doing it, or are not well-skilled at doing it.

My personal favorite example is Bill Mollison's Global Gardener series. In one of the 4 episodes, I don't remember which, he talks about his own garden. He states quite clearly that the entire garden took about 30 hours of work... for the year. The caveats are I don't remember any specific numbers on size and production, but I believe the garden provided significant food for his consumption.

Another example was posted on TOD quite some time ago of a couple people in LA growing almost all their veggies in their own backyard in Los Angeles. Both were professionals and still had time to garden... because it took only a couple hours a day, iirc.

I also recall someone posting here who had had a larger garden/farm but lost their lease and claimed feeding over 300 people... but don't remember the scale. 10 acres? Don't recall... but it was way above what most people say is possible.

I also dislike that people refer to a return to a more pastoral way of life, and farming in particular, as going backwards technologically. That's incorrect. While a goodly bit of the knowledge of basic elements of farming are as old as agriculture, the particular brands of high-yield "natural" farming are anything but natural. They are very intensively studied, modern methods. It is, in fact, a step forward in technology.


So, your guess is that "Permacutlture/Natural farming" takes less labor per "food unit"?

Should all farmers go that way, with proper education/promotion, etc? Are there any major disadvantages for farmers? Or is it a no-brainer that everyone should go that way?

I see no choice in this. There is simply no way that we can avoid going to natural farming/permaculture (NF/P)(the two have melded, but I suspect many don't know that, so present it this way) when we consider all factors.

1. The actual studies I've posted here at TOD on organic farming (not NF/P) show that even simple organic farming achieves 85% of agribusiness models and NF/P is more productive than organic farming, so far as I can tell.

2. The carbon sequestration is essential. Someone here commented that the amount of carbon sequestered is minimal, but that is obviously false when one considers global scales. As soil builds and more and more material builds layer after layer, you are obviously putting more and more carbon into the soil. Of course some of the carbon gets emitted, but only what would occur naturally. But there must be an overall sink - at least in terms of building up plant and animal matter in the soil - as plant matter is grown then sequestered year after year.

Obviously, this is an issue relating to Anthropogenically-driven Climate Change. Again, there is no choice when you look at what the goals of humanity must be in terms of managing carbon emissions.

2b. NF/P has been used quite successfully to reclaim barren land. This not only increases arable land, thus providing more food (and will rehabilitate depleted soils), but creates a larger carbon sink. More food, less carbon. What's not to like?

3. We are entering an era of high unemployment and, according to an awful lot of news articles these days, problems with food production. We have always had them with food distribution. NF/P helps helps greatly with both. NF/P makes it possible for virtually any community to be self-sufficient in food production. (Caveats for areas where you really cannot grow food, but if such is the case, why live there?)

Even though NF/P can be highly productive, it does still take time. And there are harvest times when extra help is needed. Also, if we can maintain current food production levels with NF/P, we will still have surpluses, thus able to maintain a society that can make use of specialization. (Not to mention that even the farmers, given the lower labor intensity compared to traditional and agribusiness methods, would have time to do other things, learn other skills, or just be active socio-political beings. That is, talk to one's neighbors and keep business and politics in check.)

Additionally, with the means of food production in the hands of the people, a great deal of power and wealth shifts to the people making them more independent and more able to resist political pressures from TPTB.

4. Redundancy. The more people that farm, the less likely a major societal hit comes from any given emergency.

5. I think the anecdotal examples from people posting here (Todd, Wyoming, Airdale, Sharon, Jason, et al.) make it pretty clear it can be highly rewarding in many ways. To me, the most important is the sense of living life that it seems to create, the connectedness to natural systems and rhythms. I believe it is essential to do this on a global scale, for just as it is easier to dehumanize those we do not know, it is easier to dismiss the impacts of good ecology if we never experience them.


Or is it a no-brainer that everyone should go that way?

To put it simply, yes.


My experience of food gardening, and what I've learned in conversations with Europeans and Asians who've done it much more extensively, is that backyard stuff is not going to provide all your food, but it'll sure help.

If you want to eat a pound of meat a day as we do in the US and Australia, it's not going to happen without industrialised agriculture. But you can get most of your fruit, all of your vegies, a small amount of meat and decent amount of dairy from backyard gardens - you'll still need someone's big farm for your grains (wheat, rice, corn).

So that most of your calories will be supplied by big farms (industrialised or not), but most of your nutrients will be supplied by yourself and/or your neighbours. And if the big farms fail entirely the backyard can keep you going for a little while, a month or two.

It doesn't sound very impressive, but it makes a difference. If the oil and gas supply were to stop overnight, then the backyard garden would stop you starving to death, keep you going until new systems turned up. If the oil and gas supply were to become quite short, then a lot of fruit and vegies would become very expensive. For most people, when tomatoes are $2/kg it doesn't seem worth the trouble to grow them, if they were $20/kg it would be. The limited cash available would go to the grains, and people would supply their own fruit, vegies, and a bit of meat and dairy.

But you can get most of your fruit, all of your vegies, a small amount of meat and decent amount of dairy from backyard gardens - you'll still need someone's big farm for your grains (wheat, rice, corn).

My Wife's grandmother grows @ 3.5 kg. of rice per pyoeng. 100 kg (220 lbs.) can be grown on 0.023 acres, or 111 sq yds. Some yards can handle that, though many can't.

I can imagine a future where the roads in neighborhoods are pulled up and replaced with gardens. Do that and you're getting closer. Of course, the local parks and some school fields can become forest gardens. If people are willing to go public transport, then the driveways and parking lots alone might provide all the space urban populations need to supplement their small yards.

We gotta think outside the box.


[blockquote]If the oil and gas supply were to become quite short, then a lot of fruit and vegies would become very expensive. For most people, when tomatoes are $2/kg it doesn't seem worth the trouble to grow them, if they were $20/kg it would be. The limited cash available would go to the grains, and people would supply their own fruit, vegies, and a bit of meat and dairy.[/blockquote]

Kiashu What many don't see is how subsidies both financial and regulatory are going to lead to (in the west anyway) mass starvation. I don't think that it will be a question of price but of availability. Yes supply going down does increase price but for how long? In other words prices sky-rocket for the first month and then the supply just runs out.

Many don't understand or seem to refuse to understand the role of subsidies and how they are used to favor large agribusiness that can access them.

Regulatory & Financial Subsidies

-jump through these expensive and usually arbitrary rules designed to weed you out by forcing on you huge financial costs for compliance that you can't justify and thereby recover the cost because of the scale of your production. For example if you want to sell eggs. Here in Canada we have a quota system. last I heard it was a $1,000. per laying bird. A sustainable small farm model is essentially for all intents and purposes illegal. (What every small farmer learns through repeated beatings is that his/her government is out to stomp him/her out)

Should your production and management skills be up to snuff and you could always have an egg / day from that allotment this means 365/12= 32(approx) dozen eggs / year at $2.00 per dozen (farm gate) that gives you a $64 / year income (bear in mind that if you purchase feed at about $15 / month or $180 per year for a family size flock of 7 (6 hens and a rooster) (365x6)/12=183 x 2=$360-$180 =$180. Working 365 days this equals a pay of about .50cents per day. That's of course is too optimistic as the coons and the rats and the foxes and the hawks and the neighbourhood dogs all get their share. But you get the point. So now food triples in price eggs are selling for $6.00 / dozen, but feed cost has also tripled in price.

So in 16 years that bird allotment would have paid for it's quota. Of course I'm not counting taxes the 8 birds living to 2 years the hydro and feed costs (purchased grain could run you ($180 per year x 16 =$2880), housing. Meat birds we currently are only allowed to have 300/year without quota. Rule: eggs must be graded and washed! So as Joel Salatin points out in his book "Everything I want to do is illegal" (which is a book that drives this point home) the egg washing machine forces food problems on the public (because the protective layer that keeps out bacteria is now washed off the egg by water that is contaminated with chicken shit. The purpose of the rule was to eliminate competition, under the specious rubric of health and safety. This of course weeds the producers out as the cost of compliance pushes the return on that chicken back another 15 years. There are so many examples of this that you wonder how any of us actually get any food. And it becomes clear that we are on the back side of the food production peak. The 'externalities' created by large agri-business haven't really led to major fatalities but given their predominance this is a function of time. Clearly monoculture leads to huge vulnerabilities. Your diversified garden helps to subsidize their bad behavior. But may keep you alive for a few months. At this point I think all should realize that a if you can provide 2 months of food then you haven't solved the problem of the other 10 months.

Think about this, these food nazis have told us that we can't grow and have a chicken every day! It is against the law for me to raise a chicken and share it with you if you are my guest. It is against the law for a dairy producer to drink his/her own milk!

Inspectors are sent to all the small stores to make sure that only pasty yolk magnesium deficient and old eggs are available! Stores can face huge fines if they sell fresh eggs.

Farmers markets have inspectors too! At present the propoganda machine has been ramped up to sell the specious notion that when avian influenza shows up (H5Nwhatever) that it will be the result of the small producer whose outdoor flock getting fresh air and exercise has been exposed to wild birds that are 'carrying the pathogens' and no reflection of the fact that 60,000 birds in a box having received antibiotics is in fact stressful and disrespectful to the chickens!)

We have been rewarded in so many ways by our plastic 'want's' being satisfied by cheap imports (that also mask usually massive energy subsidies) that we think that when demand rises say because of crop failures that local producers will fill in the slack. If you now attend a farmers market watch to see how many 'new' farmers are still there after years 4,5 when the money that was used under the rubric that you need to 'invest' in your business proves false. Hence the adage 'We farmed till the money ran out'. Rebecca and Tim beware of the head patting self serving rhetoric of those who don't really care if you can pay the bills. The farmers market puts a ceiling on the number of customers that you can serve and hence your income. Which for most of us is in fact negative.

In North America most people believe that the price that they pay for food is reflective of the cost of production. Hence why they reason that should they drive to your farm that you don't have the cost of shipping therefore you can reduce your price by that amount. So should prices sky-rocket they would anticipate that this price signal would trigger great increases in production. The current subsidy model which supports the agri-business model and discriminates against the small farm is such that as you say Kiashu it would be of great advantage to grow more of your own food. The price signal won't lead to increased food coming from small farmers but instead will force more small farmers out of business (they are usually too busy to grow their own food or prefer the subsidized stuff as you find out that growing your own food is in fact work)

A good example right now is that a large shopping retailer in Ontario called 'Loblaws' has recorded a 65% increase in profits something like 650 million this past year. Meanwhile the number of small farmers going bankrupt continues it's steadfast rate.

And don't forget that these nazi's never sleep. They are busy at the w.t.o. trying to pass rules and enforce laws to prevent farmers from keeping seeds. If this happens the tipping point will have been reached and then the discovery that g.m.o.'s are so weak that they are vulnerable to pathogens and then well... rough sledding ahead.

Just leaving lurker status to congratulate everyone involved with this production. I loved the interview with the horse lady (must watch it again - I've forgotten her name!) the points surrounding horses vs tractor power were well made.

On the "feed 10 per acre" comment - I wonder about logistics: food harvesting, food storage and the perceived palatability of a diet high in nuts and berries.

Much for thought!

Thank you!

Rebecca and Tim,

Just wanted to add my thanks for your beautifully shot and highly inspirational film and this coming from a died in the wool pessimist doomer. It has really inspired me to learn more about permaculture. Just sad to hear that you wont be making a follow up, it would have been great to have had a documentary tracking your progress on bringing change to your family farm.

Filmmakers asking for a small bit of help
Thank you so much for your kind comments
After two years of battling to get this made it means a lot to both of us.

Could I kindly ask a small favour so that our two year battle was not wasted and so the BBC knows that people would like to see more programmes covering the subject of peak oil,

Please could I ask you to log on to the points of view message board and tell them there,
That's the only place the BBC look for viewer responses to films and programs !!!!

The reason I ask is so far nobody for the public has said anything about our film on the POV site and our bosses will think our film was a flop and nobody was interested.. ( they actually will, it's not a sob story)

And if nobody writes anything on points of view remember you must never complain again that the BBC are not covering peak oil ????
Because they do listen if enough people tell them the same thing...:) ha ha

Thanks so much guys for the messages you left here.

best wishes

Rebecca and Tim

You got it. Congratulations on delivering such a wonderful and important programme!

I've started a comments thread at

Me too! lol We'll see which one the moderators get to first ;)

oops double post

Thanks to you for making such a great program! I randomly stumbled across it half way through on Friday night, but I quickly detected that you were peak oil aware and then went back and watched the entire thing on iPlayer straight away. I also managed to persuade my parents to watch it, and they are now very interested in making a forest garden in the next 5 years or so...

Done. The programme was so well put together, you hardly needed to ask :-)

By the way, this programme needs to be released on DVD and soon. I wouldn't be surprised if Transition Town and relocalisation initiatives soon start asking to screen it as part of their consciousness-raising. Peak oil may be under-reported, but oil-dependency in agriculture is probably the most critical aspect and yet seems even less often addressed. What's more, you managed to avoid the easy pitfall of unremitting bleakness by providing a concise, convincing intro to permaculture for the general public. I regard myself as green and yet am still amazed by its radical ingenuity. I suspect your programme will inspire many to find out more about it, and peak oil too.

Great program Rebecca and Tim, I finally managed to watch it last night and have also posted a comment on the POV site. It is high time the BBC started showing more programmes on how we are going to live with peak oil.
Good luck with the farm.

Great programme!

We hope to set up a forest garden in the next couple of years. Its really exciting. There are lots of resources out there about it now, including a video by Australian permaculturalist Geoff Lawton and the two-volume tome by Jacke and Toensmeier. Whitefield's book is quite good too.

That said, I think the effect on agriculture of peak oil will be extremely complex, and certainly more than the "ten calories in, one calorie out" observation may suggest.

Just watched Lawton's video, "Establishing a Food Forest the Permaculture Way." I haven't seen the piece on the BBC, but if anyone wants an excellent intro to how to actually make a forest garden, track down Lawton's video.


Congratulations on an excellent thought provoking programme.

There are solutions! A UK firm in Sheffield is developing groundbreaking electrolyser technology to affordably create hydrogen using water and electricity (by electrolysis) from renewable or nuclear electricity.

Fundamentally we need a fuel to replace a fuel, one that is compatible with todays infrastructure and combustion engines.

Hydrogen can be also be used to produce ammonia, that is used extensively as a fuel & fertiliser for agriculture. In US the state Iowa has pipelines carrying ammonia for agriculture.

Traditionally ammonia is manufactured by the haber bosch process, however hydrogen could be sources from an electrolyser, providing farms with a sustainable fuel and fertiliser.

Electrolysers are a good way to harness and store electricity created by wind or solar sources, (or excess nuclear generated power), to produce a fuel so that the energy can be used when we need it- anywhere. For farm, home or transport application, as long as you have electricity and water.

Supply to match demand.

Wind energy is virtually useless unless it can be stored. Batteries and the grid cannot cope with the variability, intermitency & power surges from wind turbines, where as an electrolyser can, producing a fuel, hydrogen. Hydrogen could be piped into pipelines to supplement natural gas (creating hythane), or stored for transport for when we need it.

To address myths: - we do not have to wait for fuel cells to apply hydrogen to transport;

Hydrogen although highly combustible is safer than petrol, the tanks are stronger and if punctured, hydrogen escapes vertically away at 45mph;

It was not hydrogen that sourced the flames of the Hindenburg air ship, it had long escaped.

A massive amount of safety research for hydrogen storage and utilisation has been carried out in the US.

Hydrogen used to form approx. 50% of Town gas, that we all burn't in our towns and cities in our stoves, so it's nothing new!

We have the technology in the UK to dramatically reduce dependency on oil, to be energy and FUEL self sufficient.

We need a government with the vision and a "can do" attitude, to seize the opportunity , supporting the development of world beating UK technology, for jobs, exports, domestic pride, and not least, provide future generations with energy and fuel security that (as this programme has demonstrated) our very existence depends. Where there's a will there's a way!

Note.Charles Purkess works for ITM Power Plc a company dedicated to developing hydrogen technologies for application today.

Regular readers of The Oil Drum will understand why hydrogen is not the answer to our prayers.
Permaculture could be.

Surely that depends upon what you're praying for? While sustainable food production is necessary for survival, one has to ask whose survival. Changes that are being forced upon humankind are too rapid for social unrest to be ignored, and some way of maintaining a modicum of present behaviour viz-a-viz energy dependent facilities will require maximising renewables, and hydrogen is looking like the best option for storage. The near 100% efficiencies being achieved in cracking water into oxygen and hydrogen using catalysts is far better than any other storage medium.

Changing our agricultural methods will take many seasons. Oil production has enabled the world's population growth, and lack of oil or a substitute will require population decline, something that will take generations, if humankind is to live peacefully. I'm counting on hydrogen technology, at least in some part, to tide us through the transition years.
Cheers, geoff

"The near 100% efficiencies being achieved in cracking water into oxygen and hydrogen using catalysts"

Could you provide sources for that?

There needs to be a sensible debate about energy storage , because people are starting to recognise that without it, renewables are going to be problamatic. Pumped storage may be the most efficent, compressed air sounds a dubious option. Hydrogen may be an option, but as yet we have none of them. Time is moving on and investment in such projects seems thin on the ground. Using battery cars as a storage medium has been suggested as well, but my money would go on that being an optimists dream. Hydrogen stored at close to atmospheric pressure wastes less energy than 200 (plus) bar cylinders for free steer transport use.

This issue is being debated as we blog by the Electricity Storage Association. See IET Vol4 issue 3 14-28 Feb 2009.

How about wind powered electric tractors?

Farm tractors can be electric, or hybrid .

Short term intermittency is far better handled with Demand Side Management than with central storage, especially as the number of plug-ins and EV's grows. DSM is almost free to utilities, and has both effectively instant response times and enormous capacity.

First, covering demand from storage for any significant time would be very, very expensive. Better to handle the first increment (1/3, or whatever it can handle) with DSM, and use storage as a secondary resource.

2nd, plug-in/EV charging can be scheduled when it's needed. If your problem is too much wind in the middle of the night, charging can go there, and easily be 1/2 of demand. Heck, for short periods it could be as much as you wanted: visualize 150M plug-in's pulling 6KW each, for a total of 900GW!

3rd, plug-in/EV's could also provide V2G, and provide additional supply in similar numbers.
Does it seem hard to imagine that many plug-in/EV's, or hard to imagine them ramping up quickly enough? Well, the thing to keep in mind is that they can grow as quickly as wind and solar: we could easily produce 10M plug-in/EV's per year in 10 years.

4th, it's easy to exaggerate the intermittency we need to handle, but it wouldn't take much interconnectedness to take advantage of geographical dispersion of negatively correlated wind and solar sources (your reference on this topic had sites that were all pretty close together), and

5th, we also have the option of backup by (hopefully) largely obsolete FF generation plants, so DSM (or storage) wouldn't have to handle very long (but rare) events.

We should note that DSM for PHEV/EV's is more important than V2G. It sidesteps battery cost issues, as well as other complexities that come from using wires in two directions. OTOH, it's highly likely that the 2nd generation Li-ion batteries now being put into production will last longer than the vehicles they power, rendering the cost per cycle question unimportant for V2G.

It's important to maintain clarity about the timeframe and context of our discussion. If we're really talking about a grid that has a very large % of renewables, we're either talking about decades in the future, or a world in which our society makes a much, much larger commitment to dealing with energy issues than it has so far. In such a world, a very large number of PHEV/EV's with relatively large batteries is extremely likely.

In that case, it's reasonable to assume that we're talking about over 100 million PHEV/EV's, with batteries that can effectively hold 25KHW or more. Such batteries could power vehicles for days between charges, and provide enormous flexibility for DSM (much more than a 8 hour scenario one might consider).

There is enormous potential from creative use of PHEV/EV's, potential that we are far from understanding. I would note just one: the motors in PHEV's are extremely efficient, on the order of diesels. A fleet of PHEV's would provide backup capacity on the order of 500GW that could be sustained for days, using engines that would be as efficient and far cleaner than most diesel generators. Would we want to use such a capability often? Of course not, but it's availability would be enormously valuable.

Hi Nick - do you have any upside limit estimates for the max possible no. of 2G LiIon batteries? - either production rate (guess that is solveable?) and resource limits (and can they be closed loop recycled)? A while ago I heard of military studies which had reservations about the raw material supply limits. No reference I'm afraid. Thanks for any info.

Lithium is reasonably abundant, and reasonably widely distributed: it's mostly produced now in S. America, but China is expanding production, and there are substantial sources elsewhere. It can be recycled efficiently.

It's rather like uranium: in the short run there could be boom-bust cycles of supply expansion and shortfalls, but in the medium-term there aren't really resource limits.

There was a widely read analysis a couple of years ago that raised questions, but those questions have been answered pretty thoroughly.

If you want more detail, there's quite a bit here.

Thanks - useful link. Also further down in the comments was this one:

Higher up I saw you asking about high efficiency hydrogen electrolysis. FWIW there was something from MIT last year:

Not sure what the latest is - quick search didn't turn up anything new.

Comment seen elsewhere suggests these guys are current leaders in the field:

Thanks. That lithium article is especially good, isn't it? I'll use that as well, as a good general description.

The MIT approach seems to be oriented towards low capital cost, rather than high efficiency. In fact, the MIT approach seems very odd, as it seems to combine PV (which is higher cost than wind) with electrolysis & hydrogen storage, which is higher cost and less efficient than batteries. Puzzling.

The other comment by GeoffGreaves seemed to have something specific in mind, but he hasn't answered my question (and has given no info on his profile, and has made no other posts...).

Finally got to watch it last night. What a fascinating programme! As mentioned before, I am fairly new to peak oil, so used this programme to kick off discussions with my wife.

It certainly gave a lot of food for thought.

I was very impressed at such a thorough programme, that also covered a lot of ground in 50 minutes. Also in taking the positive approach of concentrating on potential solutions and not just the problem.

I agree with many of the comments here. Our current "modern" farming is based old "traditional" methods, but slow changes and improvements in technology have refined this, without asking the question of whether it is right at all.

I have also recently watched the excellent series on Beeb 2 "The Victorian Farm". This showed the point at which manual (and horse) labour was just starting to be replaced by energy, namely the steam engine. They showed the ploughing of a field by horse (at most 1 acre a day) and then by engine (I can't remember how much it increased the amount that could be ploughed but it made a huge difference.

And so people will understandably assume (I know I did until last night) that the removal of oil will mean a return to manual and horse intensive farming, ie ploughing by hand, when perhaps the solution is in fact to stop ploughing! One of the most powerful images from the programme was showing the field being ploughed for the first time, and flocks of birds desending on it, to the current time when the field is now dead, so no birds.

One final point regarding allotments and gardens. Last year the Beed did the Brittain From Above programmes, and in there they showed an arial survey taken of London by the RAF in I think 1946, primarily to log the bomb damage done during the war. However this showed that every green space in London was being used to grow food. A very powerfull image was showing Hyde Park split into hundreds of allotments. We have done it before, we can do it again!

John Deere wrote a very interesting book back in the 20's showing the labour requirements for hand versus horse drawn then leading to tractors. The efficiency gains from hand power to horse power are impressive. Contemplate throwing manure off a wagon by hand versus a ground driven manure spreader. Then again if you are rotating livestock through the land then they are doing the work for you. On the move however from horse to tractor the principle way that the tractor outshone the horse was in plowing.

If we were to have a return to huge numbers of small farmers working their respective land then this short coming of not being able to plow as much would be diminished. Feed however still has to be harvested and devoted to the horses.
A combination strategy of forest gardens surrounding fields would be a way to marry the two strategies. Growing bio-diesal to run tractors still relies on tractor manufacturing and parts supply chains being able to service them. Bio-diesal to run small diesal engines like listers to drive belts or grind grain etc. would be more sustainable I would think.

Another thought about horses is where will we get them if you don't already have them. Ramping up a supply of horses won't happen over night. The value of horses will sky-rocket when supply shortage shocks arrive.

The concepts in setting up a forest garden are the same as setting up for fruits and veggies, and has the same lack of labor with regard to the soil. If tractors' primary job is plowing, we simply don't need them, or need very few of them since we simply do not need to be plowing.

Perhaps one community tractor for things like stumps, hauling or whatever? Then again, it is worth keeping in mind that the permaculturist should have lots of time on his/her hands except at harvest, and even then only if producing for others. This issue of time is huge. It means we CAN do many other things with our hands, from making clothing to building things to making furniture to... specializing.

Ironically, permaculture makes a high quality, hi-tech life attainable if resources are available. Virtually everyone could work an hour or two a day - if that - producing their food then the rest of their time in the lab, factory, school... etc.


There's a copy of this documentary available at the link below
A Farm for the Future

For educational use only!