The Oil Intensity of Food

This is a guest post by Lester R. Brown, founder and President of the Earth Policy Institute. His principal research areas include food, population, water, climate change, and renewable energy; see his list of publications by clicking here.

Today we are an oil-based civilization, one that is totally dependent on a resource whose production will soon be falling. Since 1981, the quantity of oil extracted has exceeded new discoveries by an ever-widening margin. In 2008, the world pumped 31 billion barrels of oil but discovered fewer than 9 billion barrels of new oil. World reserves of conventional oil are in a free fall, dropping every year.


Discoveries of conventional oil total roughly 2 trillion barrels, of which 1 trillion have been extracted so far, with another trillion barrels to go. By themselves, however, these numbers miss a central point. As security analyst Michael Klare notes, the first trillion barrels was easy oil, “oil that’s found on shore or near to shore; oil close to the surface and concentrated in large reservoirs; oil produced in friendly, safe, and welcoming places.” The other half, Klare notes, is tough oil, “oil that’s buried far offshore or deep underground; oil scattered in small, hard-to-find reservoirs; oil that must be obtained from unfriendly, politically dangerous, or hazardous places.”

This prospect of peaking oil production has direct consequences for world food security, as modern agriculture depends heavily on the use of fossil fuels. Most tractors use gasoline or diesel fuel. Irrigation pumps use diesel fuel, natural gas, or coal-fired electricity. Fertilizer production is also energy-intensive. Natural gas is used to synthesize the basic ammonia building block in nitrogen fertilizers. The mining, manufacture, and international transport of phosphates and potash all depend on oil.

Efficiency gains can help reduce agriculture’s dependence on oil. In the United States, the combined direct use of gasoline and diesel fuel in farming fell from its historical high of 7.7 billion gallons (29.1 billion liters) in 1973 to 4.2 billion in 2005–a decline of 45 percent. Broadly calculated, the gallons of fuel used per ton of grain produced dropped from 33 in 1973 to 12 in 2005, an impressive decrease of 64 percent.

One reason for this achievement was a shift to minimum- and no-till cultural practices on roughly two fifths of U.S. cropland. But while U.S. agricultural fuel use has been declining, in many developing countries it is rising as the shift from draft animals to tractors continues. A generation ago, for example, cropland in China was tilled largely by draft animals. Today much of the plowing is done with tractors.

Fertilizer accounts for 20 percent of U.S. farm energy use. Worldwide, the figure may be slightly higher. As the world urbanizes, the demand for fertilizer climbs. As people migrate from rural areas to cities, it becomes more difficult to recycle the nutrients in human waste back into the soil, requiring the use of more fertilizer. Beyond this, the growing international food trade can separate producer and consumer by thousands of miles, further disrupting the nutrient cycle. The United States, for example, exports some 80 million tons of grain per year–grain that contains large quantities of basic plant nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. The ongoing export of these nutrients would slowly drain the inherent fertility from U.S. cropland if the nutrients were not replaced.

Irrigation, another major energy claimant, is requiring more energy worldwide as water tables fall. In the United States, close to 19 percent of farm energy use is for pumping water. And in some states in India where water tables are falling, over half of all electricity is used to pump water from wells. Some trends, such as the shift to no-tillage, are making agriculture less oil-intensive, but rising fertilizer use, the spread of farm mechanization, and falling water tables are having the opposite effect.

Although attention commonly focuses on energy use on the farm, agriculture accounts for only one fifth of the energy used in the U.S. food system. Transport, processing, packaging, marketing, and kitchen preparation of food are responsible for the rest. The U.S. food economy uses as much energy as the entire economy of the United Kingdom.

The 14 percent of energy used in the food system to move goods from farmer to consumer is equal to two thirds of the energy used to produce the food. And an estimated 16 percent of food system energy use is devoted to canning, freezing, and drying food–everything from frozen orange juice concentrate to canned peas.

Food staples such as wheat have traditionally moved over long distances by ship, traveling from the United States to Europe, for example. What is new is the shipment of fresh fruits and vegetables over vast distances by air. Few economic activities are more energy-intensive.

Food miles–the distance that food travels from producer to consumer–have risen with cheap oil. At my local supermarket in downtown Washington, D.C., the fresh grapes in winter typically come by plane from Chile, traveling almost 5,000 miles. One of the most routine long-distance movements of fresh produce is from California to the heavily populated U.S. East Coast. Most of this produce moves by refrigerated trucks. In assessing the future of long-distance produce transport, one writer observed that the days of the 3,000-mile Caesar salad may be numbered.

Packaging is also surprisingly energy-intensive, accounting for 7 percent of food system energy use. It is not uncommon for the energy invested in packaging to exceed that in the food it contains. Packaging and marketing also can account for much of the cost of processed foods. The U.S. farmer gets about 20 percent of the consumer food dollar, and for some products, the figure is much lower. As one analyst has observed, “An empty cereal box delivered to the grocery store would cost about the same as a full one.”

The most energy-intensive segment of the food chain is the kitchen. Much more energy is used to refrigerate and prepare food in the home than is used to produce it in the first place. The big energy user in the food system is the kitchen refrigerator, not the farm tractor. While oil dominates the production end of the food system, electricity dominates the consumption end.

In short, with higher energy prices and a limited supply of fossil fuels, the modern food system that evolved when oil was cheap will not survive as it is now structured.

# # #

To continue reading about localized agriculture and urban gardening, see Farming in the City at

Adapted from Chapter 2, “Deteriorating Oil and Food Security,” in Lester R. Brown, Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2008), available for free downloading and purchase at

I think the most important point made here is that most of the energy consumed in eating happens after the food leaves the supermarket. Refrigeration and cooking energy use exceeds food productions and processing energy use, and I bet, the trip home uses more fuel than the long journey to the supermarket.

The localization movement is appealing for many reasons, but probably has no impact on total energy use.

What are the least energy-intensive ways to store food?

What are the most practical alternatives to refrigeration, and are there any simple, step-by-step instructions for "how to" available on the internet?

I'll do some googling -- does anyone have suggestions readily at hand?

As Airdale and Dryki have mentioned recently, a big option should be to rely much more on UNRefrigerated foods. Canning and Jarring, Dried Foods, Storing Whole Grains, and grinding/preparing them when needed. As Pollan says, only buy the foods around the outside edges of the Store. Produce, Dairy, Fresh Stuff.. and don't bother with anything that has the budget to promote and post its claimed 'Health Benefits'

As another Northerner, you might consider setting up a basement "Ice House" that would be a heavily insulated 'Walk In Fridge' that stores Large Blocks of Ice Through the Winter, and hangs onto them as far into Spring/Summer as possible. Ideally (and it would prob be in a more suitable, ie, 'Dream' house..), this would be entered via a stairway, with the door only above, so the cold has nowhere to escape to..

I've also toyed with dissecting a retired fridge, and relocating the Compressor into a WindTurbine, and adding enough Storage of refrigerant, so that wind provides direct power to compression when available, and the fridge (then also SUPERinsulated) draws on the coolant reservoir as needed. A parallel or backup to grid would probably be needed, depending on your location.

(To get even more complex, I've wondered about 'precooling' the compressor, which is also prewarming that water supply before it heads to the regular water-heating equip.)


Canning is very energy intensive and takes place at a time of year when the extra heat is unwelcome. I wonder if food destined for canning could be frozen until cooler weather and then canned when the waste heat could warm the house.

A lot of canning happens in a rush, while the fresh food has it's nutrition most intact. We just packed up a bunch of Strawberries this weekend, and I worked a couple late nights to get them before they got skanky. Organic, self-picked at $2/lb.. Hope that Freezer is as efficient as it claims! We just ate the last baggie from last summer, too!

It's not too hard to envision some Autumn Canning using a bunch of Mirrors and Sun to offer a lot of process heat.. but in either case, I'd be interested in seeing the comparison of Storebought, Processed Fridge Food with one-use containers, as compared to our old Glass Jars, Garden Produce, a bit of StoveTime and TapWater, and a few boxes of rubber seals every year. Then, the mirrors go to work sending heat in your windows come winter.

Sauerkraut is a good low-energy method of canning.. and very healthy, so I keep hearing!


Right Jokuhl!

Krauts, and their Korean equivalents, Kimchis, require NO heating. The raw, fresh food straight from the garden is preserved, using sparing amounts of salt, and sometimes vinegar, to cut salt quantities even further.

The classic preservation process is a lactic acid ferment, done at low temperature. Food is never cooked or heat-treated.

The resulting gravies, as the krauts/kimchis mature, are reckoned to be health foods in their own right.

Literally all sorts of vegs and fruits can be included, together with all sorts of flavouring herbs and spices. Kimchis in particular are hugely varied, with a wide range of flavours, going from savoury to sweet.

This is my second year at practical preservation of food by krauting/kimchiing. Google Sandorkraut's site for a good intro. Sharon Astyk also has a good deal of practical information on traditional low-energy, low-tech methods of preservation. I'm also in my second year of drying in a passive drying cabinet, driven only by sun power. (No mirrors or lenses needed. Just a regular air-flow, and fine-grained excluder meshes to keep small creatures out while the sliced food dessicates.)

My experience is that this has huge potential for cheap, lowtech/energy storage, with excellent food-value preservation. But of course, traditional ways of storing root crops, such as clamping, plus the other way that I use a lot -- just letting hardy leaf-food vegetables continue to stand in the garden through the Winter, picking a little as needed, also works well. Always something fresh, to go with something cheaply preserved.

Next year, as my duck flock expands to the poit where culling becomes essential: smoke-dried pemmican/jerky/biltong. Jesus, I can't wait, especially with the delicious flavour of Muscovy-Duck meat, even before it gets the spiced salting and smoke flavour! Some biltongs are sold as savoury treat-snacks hereabouts, and no wonder!

Has anyone attempted solar canning?

It's doable but only recommended with high-acid foods:

Canning plums in a solar oven

I'll remind people of the link in my profile to the Scheffer style dish.

And repost the link from last week.

Yes, a solar powered veggie canner.

As to canning and the time of year vs temperatures.

Well the simple, easy way to can your vegetables is to do it all outside. Under a shade tree or a porch overhang. I do mine in the aisle of the barn,,which is oriented that a nice breeze is caught thereby.

Currently I use a propane tank tapped into my large two castiron burners on my fish cooker. Easy to move, handy as well.

Tomatoes are easy. You only need to water bath can them IF your using good heirloom varieties with sufficient acid to keep extremely well. The cabbages I turn into sauerkraut. No heat required. Shred and pack with salt in a airtight container with a water trap on the top. Then just store the whole contain(like a gallon or larger jar) and really easy to do.

So what to can? Thats about it for me. I no longer freeze corn. I might can some cucumbers to make pickles.

Corn is extremely easy. I leave it on the ears and hang in large sacks from the rafters to keep vermin out. Grind it as I need it.

Important: I have found the hard way that ground corn meal even brought fresh and stored in plastic freezer bags will still allow the insect eggs in it to hatch. I have moths trapped in double lock freezer bags where a full 3 lbs of store brought meal sits.

So one must never grind more meal from his own corn crop until its needed. Say 3 or 4 lbs at a time. Corn will keep extremely well on the cob or in the kernel. But I never shell mine all at once. I have corn in bags(pillow cases) that was harvested over 3 years ago. Wheat as to prevent weevils and the rest do NOT grind you corn into meal until necessary.

All the rest I dry. Potatoes and onions on a shelf in the barn then hung up. Peas and beans left in the pod or shelled and stored in large 1 gallon glass jars..think pickle jars. Or large mayo jars. Perfect storage.

So I once canned green beans. No more. I can get by with just purple hulled peas, pinto beans and great northern beans. Never much cared for green beans anyway.

So yeah tomatoes are work and you use heat but if I can stay away from the pressure canner I am a happier camper. And believe me good home canned tomatoes are really worth the effort. Really.

I have tried canning potatoes. Lot of work for nothing. Stored right they will last most of the winter and you then have your seed stock for the very early spring planting.

Had no fruit this year but I like to dry it when I got it. Dried apples and peaches make excellent 'fried pies'. Easy to do with a solar dryer.

Take that back. My blackberries are coming in right now and a bumper crop. I cook them down to syrup and store in jars after water bath. Don't need a lot of jelly really. A quart jar will last me almost two months.


PS. A well built root cellar is a godsend BTW. I don't have one as yet but plans are afoot.

All good thoughts. Another possibility of energy saving down the depletion road would be to reinstitute cooking the way the Roman commoners did. Only the wealthy had their own kitchen. Commoners took their food to a neighborhood commercial kitchen where their dishes were cooked for a fee, or they could buy some of whatever was being served that day. You don't need try to preserve the goat if it is all consumed.

Someone that is a refrigeration engineer need to run the numbers with you.

My understanding is, any runs of refrigeration lines longer than 10 meters and you are going to get sizable losses from the trip back.

The refrigerant is "hot" and under high pressure as it leaves the compressor. Here, the long run actually helps if it allow the heat to escape and chill the refrigerant more before it reaches the condenser.

However, the return line is "cold", and if it heats up from the long line run, you lose.

What is needed is to see:

a) are you better off to generate electricity and run off the electricity

b) whether you can find a compressor that will work with intermittent power (wind, etc.) and still have reasonable efficiency.

c) what are the tradeoffs of refrigerant line losses vs. power transmission / storage losses.

Do get back to us with some numbers....

....after first deciding how much lagging you want to put on that cold return pipe.

Super high efficiency refrigerators:

There are some European brands that are highly efficient also. (perhaps someone can provide names?)

Sunfrost has been in business for years. They started making high efficiency DC refrigerators for PV applications, but now make AC models also. Their refrigerators are far more efficient than Energy Star certified major brands.

Refrigerators only consume 10% of household electricity. Upgrading to a high efficiency HVAC system can save more energy than replacing a refrigerator.

I feel the need to also plug their main competitor, Sundanzer.

I'm looking into getting a Sundanzer instead of a Sunfrost, mostly due to higher efficiency of chest-based refrigeration as opposed to cabinet based. (Cold air rushing out as soon as you open the fridge/freezer on cabinet based systems.)

~Durandal (

Or build one yourself. See This one uses about 0.1 Kwh/day.

Hi Benedictus,

I am constantly amazed at how much I learn from this site. Your chest fridge is fantastic and I can see exactly what I'm going to replace my old cabinet fridge with when it dies. Your mods are simple, non-invasive and cheap, which are just fantastic. If you want to package up the kits, let me know and I'll flog a few for you although i suspect it is really easy to replicate with a quick vist to Jaycar or Dicksmith. Well done. How amny beer fridges, humming away in garages is this ideal for.

Eliminating the HVAC system altogether and using solar exhaust fans will save much, much more energy...

Or, live in a house that is naturally moderating the temperatures (south facing, etc.) and simply not use the HVAC until it gets very hot or cold.

Better yet, abandon central heating and cooling except to the extent that it is needed to keep pipes not frozen.

Dry foods like grains and beans are easy to store and efficient with space. Cooking from scratch has lots of benefits over packaged foods, but a lot of the inefficiency in storage and preparation come from small households. A fridge for a one or two person household doesn't use much less power than a fridge for a large family. I will give the singles and couples credit for not overpopulating the planet, but I think in a future of economic decline, we'll have more communal living arrangements and hopefully save some energy in refrigeration and cooking that way.

What are the most practical alternatives to refrigeration, and are there any simple, step-by-step instructions for "how to" available on the internet?

A vented root cellar is on my list of wants, its best if you have a winter where you live. Plenty of stuff on the web, I recommend this book.

What are the most practical alternatives to refrigeration

But, why do we care?

The SUN FROST RF16 typically consumes 15 KWH per month. That's 21 watts, on average. That could be supplied by 60 watts of wind power, which would cost about $120 in upfront capital costs - that's an annual amortized cost of $12 per year! Or, by 100 watts of PV, which at the moment, might cost $800 before subsidies (or $80 per year). Surely, these are better alternatives than labor-intensive storage schemes.

Again, sometimes a labor-intensive investment pays off down the road. an 'Ice House' for a big family center has a lot of stability, where the HiTech fridges (which I'd love to get, just the same), won't run for too many decades.

PS, How much are they? I think $2000, $2500, right?


the HiTech fridges (which I'd love to get, just the same), won't run for too many decades.

Ah, you're afraid of relying on any tech that you can't personally maintain. Well, that's a whole different kettle of fish than energy/CO2 concerns.

PS, How much are they? I think $2000, $2500, right?

Good question. That might argue for a more conventional fridge: that might need 90KWH per month, which could be supplied by $720 in wind power investment, for a total of well below $2,000. On a societal level, that might be the more efficient investment.

Hey Nick,

You seem to have a handle on the electronics and energy calculations for alternative systems. Have you considered a post on alternative energy for the home, whether grid-tied or off-grid? I, for one, would love a semi-DIY post on how to do the calculations for your consumption and for designing a system, all in very simple, plain language.

How many cells --> panels does it take for a given latitude to run a BAU household? What about a BAU household where the residents conserve aggressively, i.e., turn off anything not in use? Etc.

How do you put a DIY panel together from parts to finished product?


If you'd be up for such a post, I'd be willing to help track down some DIY resources, internet vids, what have you.


That's a great idea. My first reaction is that it would take more time than I have right now to do right, but I'd love to do it.

Let me think about, ok?

Honestly now, how many decades do you think you will run? Or, even give a crap about refrigeration in ten years? Pie in the sky, need a fridge to last 50 years......sheesh! Tell us where your solar powered freezers are, so we can come "visit" when the juice goes down....

This place is going to hell in a handbasket, I would suggest you use the time to make a good hand basket. Not to play around with BAU.

Mother told me never to talk to zombies, but I'll try.

1) My main suggestion was for a glorified RootCellar/Icebox, which should easily run for a century, since it doesn't run, it just sits there. A few water tanks in it would be allowed to freeze in the wintertime via some simple plumbing to an outdoor radiator.. and then you just keep it shut in, hanging onto the cold for as long as you can.. Compression/Decompression is a great and simple way to make things cold (and make otherthings warm if you want to tap both ends of the process and boost efficiency) ..

2) The Sundanzers or Sunfrosts are really solid units, and have a great rep.. I'd get one if I had the chance, and treat it lightly enough that I'd hope to get 20 years from it.. hopefully I could figure out how to get or make parts as repairs came up.. but that insulated box should be fine for a LONG time.

3) I fully expect to still be excited about refrigeration in 10 years. I will probably make my handbasket so that it fits right on the shelves.

'This Place' consists of a LOT of places, and each will do differently as Peak Oil brings out various advantages and disadvantages. Hope you're looking for the ways your area can take advantage of whatever benefits it has.


"What are the least energy-intensive ways to store food?"

"Store" vegetables in the vege garden just outside (apart from what you have to store over winter-spring-summer till next harvest).
"Store" eggs by having your chicken house just outside and collecting the eggs that day.
"Store" your goose by not killing it till when you want to cook it.

""Store" your goose by not killing it till when you want to cook it."

But then your goose is cooked

Traditional means of food preservation:

salting, curing, etc.

Make preserved meats like salami, salt pork / beef, preserved vegetables like pickles, and eggs.

We do home solar drying of food. I have built two types of dryers.

After building the first, I realized that the dryers don't have to be as complicated as the first one which had a plenum to collect the hot air feeding a box of food racks.

The second type I built is just a clear plastic box (Safeway cake box) in which I cut holes for air flow and glued in screening to keep out the bugs.

Setting out food on the roof or pavement would work

See photos at:

- Acomfort

At least here in the UK, the local food movement emphasizes total energy consumption in the food chain. It is true the biggest single component of 'food miles' is the drive from home to the supermarket and back. One way that can and is reduced is for the supermarkets to deliver to your door - if each round by a (small) delivery lorry cuts 10 car journeys, it probably reduces the carbon footprint of this stage by 80%. We have one delivery a month, and it is rare for us to make a car journey now specifically to buy food.

In the UK the refrigeration costs tend to be much lower - we have far smaller and more efficient appliances. My fridge and freezer combined use about 0.7KWh a day. I hope to run the freezer on solar panels.

Local food also tends to use far less packaging, again reducing footprint. Cooking at home can be an energy hog. A fashion here is for huge kitchen range style cookers than run to several KW and need a long time to heat up (and in summer require extra air con to cool to the house, if the the house has air con). The first thing I did was rip out (and sell) the one in my house when I moved in. A small convection oven uses far less energy. We have a natural gas hob for pan cooking.

I do not know the total energy content of my food, but I would guess, being vegetarian, it is half the UK average. I am lazy, well fed and keep a couple of chickens. Food miles for them are measured as 20 feet (and ten minutes) from chicken to pan.

I suspect that home delivery is going to grow in popularity, then these deliveries can be migrated to electric vehicles (possibly via LPG?). The route can be pre-calculated to easily fit within the vehicles range/charge.

Supermarkets are increasingly conscious of their 'green credentials' -a big PV array on the roof and a fleet of 'zero carbon' delivery vehicles is going to do a lot for their brand and the saving when expensive fuel hits should make the payback ROI timespan lower.


A way to save energy when cooking is to turn down the heat to simmer after a pot boils. A lot of people think that turning up the heat will cook something faster and not realize that once it reaches boiling that is as hot as it will get. The added benefit is less inside humidity.

For the average family, cooking uses only a small fraction of hosehold energy.

Vacuum Flask Cooking. A couple of different ones are shown here. Takes about 6 hours to cool down to 155 F, cooking is slow.

I used to make yogurt in a half gallon vacuum bottle back when I had goats. I'd heat the milk to a certain temp., let it cool to another temp. (can't remember the exact temps.), stir in a tablespoon of live yogurt culture, pour it into the vacuum bottle, let it set overnight & by morning it was done. Fresh goat yogurt with honey or strawberries was real good.

The localization movement is appealing for many reasons, but probably has no impact on total energy use.

I beg to differ. I understand your point with respect to "food miles" but there is much more involved in the way I talk about localization.

For example: Eating local food means eating in season and avoiding the processing costs not just the transportation.

We also talk about local energy development, which means using solar energy for the most part. So if you do process those extra tomatoes it is done with a solar dryer.

Even when it comes to fertilizer we talk about locally sourcing food wastes and, eventually human wastes. We live 30 miles from the ocean so products like shell and kelp powders are possible. Grow your own nitrogen with cover crops, etc.

I agree that there are many benefits, but saving energy is not among them. Take grapes or any other similar crop.

Growing grapes in Chile is very energy efficient because the people who work the fields consume little energy, e.g., they walk or take a bus to the field. Transporting the grapes to New York requires a trivial amount of energy because the boat carries vast amounts of grapes. Compare that with grapes grown in upstate NY. The farmer and his family run around in pickup trucks, run AC, have a big screen TV, ... The immigrant labor that does most of the picking also has a much more energy intensive lifestyle than their colleagues in Chile.

I believe your example works for wine, which is boated in, whereas grapes might be flown in. Less energy to drink Chilean wine in NY than CA wine, for example, too. Teasing out the boundaries of analysis is tricky.

Of course what we talk about with localization is having a low carbon footprint lifestyle in general. Often when comparisons are made regarding food systems they pick today's food system in one place vs today's food system in another as opposed to determining what sort of food system might be possible in a locality.

Hey Jason,

I sent "Campfire" an essay a week or so ago that covered a lot of this but I haven't even gotten a reply from you or Glen that you received it. What's going on?


I think grapes from Chile come by boat, at least they did a few years ago, but I agree that localization is about a low carbon lifestyle. I'm just not sure that it is a low carbon lifestyle in practice. Shipping a boatload of bananas from Honduras may in fact be the best and lowest carbon way of providing people in the US with a nutritious snack.

Studies on the locavore movement have shown that locally produced and transported food results in substantially less CO2 emissions and energy use versus typical national distribution. The typical food in the US travels 1,300-1,500 miles from farm to plate.


You have made some good points ,but a couple of things have been overlooked so far in this thread.One is that if localization is to succeed to the fullest extent,rather than just supplement shipped food,processing and storing fruits and vegetables for off season use is a necessity.

Energy has always been so cheap that I personally have never given any serious thught to the energy needed to cook and dry food,or to freeze it,but my Mom used to cook and can on a wood stove to save electricity.

It seems very likely that in the near term the energy used to cook,can,freeze ,or dry food will continue to be a bargain,compared to the energy and cash costs of buying shipped food in the off season.And cash might be in short supply.... next winter.

In the long term the energy will likely be very expensive,but shipped food will be still more expensive,so the numbers will still more than likely work out in favor of preservation of any food not immediately needed.

If you are going to can,a very large pressure cooker,one capable of holding at least a dozen quart jars, is your best friend,time and energy wise.They are safe as can be if handled correctly,but as dangerous as hand grenades in the hands of anyone unaware of proper usage.Beware!

You can also use your cooker as a stew pot for family gatherings,etc,which takes some of the sting out of buying it.

Root cellars are great but great care must be taken to dig them in spots that are not subject to flooding after a few days of heavy rain;I'm not talking about a flood in the usual sense,but rather just water logged soil weeping a couple of feet of water into your cellar,if it isn't placed so it can drain.

We have a dozen "apple wires" which are made of heavy galvanized "rat wire" with a quarter inch mesh framed with one by two furring strips,about three feet wide and six feet long.My Mom used to dry up to a thousand pounds of apples on them(three or four hundred bushels of otherwise unmarketable apples,TWENTY THOUSAND POUNDS FRESH,sometimes more) between mid September and Janaury with no tools other than a good paring knife.Screens like these will last just about forever if store out of the weather when not in use.

Ours are anywhere up to seventy five years old,the oldest ones being (used) gifts from her own mother in the late nineteen forties.

As you can easily imagine,she worked at this job at odd intervals during the day and far into the night six days a week,in addition to doing all the other "womens" work involved in living on a small farm and raising a houseful of kids.The men sometimes helped,as did older kids.

But she often enjoyed the company of a couple of other local women as all worked together on this task-taking turns visiting each others homes.

You can dry other friuts and veggies with these screens outside anytime the weather is suitable-
clear and not too humid.

The trick is to cover the bottom screen -the one with the fruit on it-with a second screen to keep the various flying critters such as yellow jackets and honey bees off.If you use reasonably straight wood to make the frames,they will fit against each other snugly enough to keep the bees out.

You can dry sliced apples on such a screen mounted over a wood stove in 24 to 48 hours,but they don't look as nice as sun dried,which takes up to five or six days locally.

If all this is already covered,sorry, I'm a one finger typist.

Then there is the real wastage of spoilage of fresh fruits and vegetables before they can be consumed by the final consumer, and also the stuff thrown out because excess is made and either not all eaten, or stored in a fridge and ultimately thrown out.

Since that happens at the end of the supply chain (where the maximum intermediate energy inputs have already gone into it), it is real waste.

The grow local (your home garden) have something going for it:

If you don't use it all at once in one instance, you can let the stuff stay on the vine for a while.

Real large surpluses (harvest) can be handled with canning or a home root cellar.

I've said in other threads several times, the farmer gets only about 8
cents of the $1.50 you pay your supermarket for that 16 oz loaf of bread. Good to see other examples cited here, eg. the empty cereal box costing the same as the full one. As far as basic staple foods go, todays industrial world consumer wouldn't notice a quick doubling, tripling or quadrupling of the farmer's petroleum input costs. Assuming that 4 cents of the 8 paid the farmer goes to pay petroleum expenses, if those expenses go to 10x todays, that only adds 36 cents to the cost of that $1.50 loaf of bread. Most consumers wouldn't even notice, and would certainly be complaining a LOT more about the $25.00 / gallon gasoline (10x $2.50).

In short, IMHO localizing as much as rational in our food supply is smart, but we're not going to see anything like N American people feeding themselves from staples they grow individually. It just makes no sense, esp. when most staples require significant processing by relatively costly machinery to be useful. (thrashing, grinding, sifting for wheat, then processing into eg. pastas or bread.)

$1.50 for a loaf of bread?

Try $2.00 or even $2.25. Thats what I see on the price on the shelves.

Milk at $4.79 and sometimes more.

Unless your at WalMart or Sam's.

The local merchants have finally 'gone over' and realized they have a lot of captive trade with local people and instead of being fair they gouge like there is no tomorrow. And they sell vegetables that are way past usuable. Bananas that are either green and tasteless or bruised badly. Some drag old produce from stores in big towns to their stores in little towns and think nothing of it.

Usually they stock soda pop that has been warehoused long enough to be worthless. They get this from shyster middlemen.

Your town merchant is no longer YOUR FRIEND. He is gouging you.

There is exactly one local store left that I will buy at that treats customers fair. Only one in 25 miles that I will go to anymore. The rest setup the registers to steal you as you check out and if you catch it say ''''Oh its that darned computer.'..yeahhh right....its the butchers proverbial thumb resting on the scales.

Airdale-there are few honest men left, they have learned and taken lessons from their 'betters' , the ones who really flog us and laughing all the time with their cheap chintzy chinee crap

Yesterday a huge windstorm blew thru here after 2 weeks of very dry weather.

It tore hell out of everything and power was down long enough to lose a refrigerator's worth of food.

Its just not going to be wise to believe that with continuing and increasing power outages due to cheap infrastructure that using freezers and refrigerators without some backup will be wise any longer.

I lost my whole freezer due to very dirty power, again infrastructure. Then my refrigerator contents today.

I ate some tainted food after one of these episodes and was sick for 6 days and am still slowly recovering...bad food from power outages can make you very sick.


Your story illustrates some of the disadvantages of being "self contained" versus relying on a community or national infrastructure. Whether its food, water, electricity , health care, home insurance, a more independent or self contained system for example growing all food, seems more robust and it is except you can be exposed to arbitrary events. Back-up power or at least two sources( ie gas and electric)is probably a good policy anywhere. Cities in N America have been having major blackouts since 1967, and we are sure to have additional ones every few years. It's just that no back-up system can be 100% reliable, it's nice to have a close-by community that you find in cities.

I rely on the freezers and refrigerators at the supermarket for more than a few day supply, but the downside is if this fails I will have to walk or drive a further one km and if all fails I will be eating cereal, beans and rice for a month.

History shows that in troubled times the safest place has been living in cities, with enough neighbors to ensure food water and fuel continue to arrive. It's fortunate that so little energy is used for food production and distribution, and for most places very little energy is used for water and sewerage. Living in Sydney, Australia, we also need very little energy for heating or cooling except hot water and cooking.
My one experience of a prolonged energy shortage was in Oak Ridge, TN in 1975-78, with severe NG shortages. Everyone seemed to work together sharing resources and managing by cooking in the fireplace, and without hot showers for weeks, and very little heat.

The next question is what to do about this situation, if anything. IMO the role of government is ensuring that the playing field is level, meaning that it is not tilted by subsidies, tax breaks and tariffs, that external costs are appropriately captured and valued, and that sufficient information is readily available from unbiased third party sources as a basis for informed choices. Then all parties at all stages of production can make their decisions on the basis of sound price signals, whether of water, jet fuel or grapes. As long as all the costs are captured in the price of the air-flown grapes, the consumer can choose to buy "out of season" and the off-shore producer choose to produce. Nothing would effect change faster than clear economic signals. If trucking costs are too high, California grape shippers will either figure out how to send their product by rail or produce something else. The fundamental problem is that powerful interests benefit from colluding with the political class to tilt the playing field in their favor to the financial benefit of both. Or allowing the fight to occur out behind the stands, as happened in the recent Wall Street debacle. Until these actions by the political class are treated in the same way as Madoff's, neither the seller nor the buyer will have clear signals upon which to make decisions.

"IMO the role of government is ensuring that the playing field is level".

When something is detrimental to the general public, Government should take far stronger action than just leveling the playing field, it should make it illegal or set tight controls.
Jetting in grapes should not be an option now.

For example here in the UK, most urban areas are declared Smokeless so it is illegal to heat houses using coal - doesn't matter how rich you are, there is no price you can pay in order to have a nice coal fire.

And as a director (I think retired now of Shell oil co argued on BBC news one morning about 12 months ago, cars should not be able to be sold now (i.e. a law passed) if they don't do at least 60mpg(British). He said words to the effect they can be as sporty and souped up as you like as long as they do 60mph.

Jetting in grapes should not be an option now.

In my opinion, this isn't even an increase in quality of life. When I first moved to New Orleans, there was a season for strawberries (from the North Shore) and for crawfish. And since there was a season, you looked forward to it and savored them when the season came 'round. Now, you just go pick them up.

There are hard choices to be made as things progress, but in my opinion, this isn't one of them -- shipping in products out of season just so you don't have to wait serves NO purpose whatsoever.

He said words to the effect they can be as sporty and souped up as you like as long as they do --60mph--.

Not terribly "souped up" - :) just kidding...

In my opinion, this isn't even an increase in quality of life.

That's the point - to you (and me), grapes out of season are not but to some for reasons neither of us know they may be and if so they are willing to pay for them. By pricing an energy source right, with a tax to sufficiently capture external costs if necessary, everyone can make their individual production and consumption choices, our system functions smoothly and everyone is better off. Otherwise, strange distortions start happening, such as trucks with older diesel engines suddenly increasing in value.

I've been surprised by the results of enough life cycle analyses to recognize that appropriate energy pricing will likely get us through transitions more effectively than will the relatively blunt instrument of regulation alone. Often what seems the best choice at first glance is erroneous when examined empirically.

We are indebted to Professor Goose and Mr Brown for a very fine post that does a great job of summing up in clear,concise and very readable style the Siamese twin relationship between our current ag practices and the ff industries.

The only thing to be said against it is that old timers here are mostly already familiar with the basics,and it doesn't get past the basics,it's too short.

I might quibble a bit about a couple of things that would have undoubtedly been better discussed at more length.

Our land will be depleted pretty damned quick,rather than gradually, w/o synthetic fertilizers not only because of exports but because most nutrients shipped off farm and consumed domestically are also lost to the land.

Refrigerators are probably not nearly as big a consumer of food energy as the family auto which is typically used at least weekly for grocery shopping.Better refrigerators(energy wise) and better shopping habits can actually extend food supplies and contribute to health and well being while consuming very little energy.

Cross country refrigerated trucks will probably be a thing of the past within a decade or so as intermodal truck/rail comes of age,thereby contributing to a considerable reduction in shipping energy.My guess is that only the rich will eat grapes in the winter,unless maybe a high speed frieght railway gets built down into Central America. I have a gut feeling that rail is going to come back far stronger than most pundits expect.

Water is going to be a real game changer and production is quite possibly going to fall dramatically in areas heavily dependent on irrigation,with a corresponding increase of production in areas such as the Carolinas where rain is generally adequate and land is still in good supply.A lot of southeastern land farmed in the recent past has been subdivided into small tracts but the growth of the subdivisions has temporarily at least slowed th a crawl,and most of this land can be rented for farming if it is profitable to do so.

The amount of packaging used in the food industry is shrinking just as the amount of on farm fuel use is shrinking,per unit product.Milk jugs are only half as thick now as they were some years back.

I normally think in terms of the invisible hand,but there is a lot to be said for a punitive level of tax on such pruducts as bottled water,single serving canned soft drinks, and so forth.

This issue of the Family Car is seemingly a good argument for EV's, IMO. These trips can be consolidated, no doubt.. my wife shops on the way home, which combines her (~3mile) commute with that errand.. but it would seem that a great many people don't have to go all that far to get to the stores, and if they do, that's something that'll be forced to change anyhow.

I'm really most eager for an EV that's half-Tricycle, ultra-light enough to be part pedals/ part Electric, just Covered enough to keep the rain off, cover the purchases with a degree of security (closable 'Trunk', in other words) and to improve the Wind-resistance. The one I was drawing yesterday I was calling a 'Street Kayak' (or a 'Bikedarka', as the Baidarka is the Aleutian Kayak/Canoe)


recently I have seen a few power-assisted bikes, but the power-assist thing is a modified kiddie trailer. The trailer carries the batteries and its motor drives the trailer wheels. Such a trailer could carry groceries.

Power assisted bikes work well if you have the climate that allow its regular use.

I noticed that with one, I tend to do less grocery shopping altogether, and when I do shop, I buy stuff that don't weigh much (like drink concentrate power) and I stopped buying soda water or stuff that just weigh too much.

I do make more frequent trips, which meant fewer of the food bough is spoiled as I wait until inventory is really low before I buy, and when I do buy, I buy in smaller quantities with the exception of things that can be stored indefinitely.

For that, I still use a car, and make a rare once a month or two trip to a local warehouse club.


Had that same notion. I have a Sun trike that I modified to a gear on the free rear axle that is not pedal driven creating an electric drive to one wheel and pedal gears to the other. Pretty doggone good errand runner. No enclosure yet. I've done a half dozen ebikes of different sorts. Sell them and keep playing.

Even easier is to just buy the kit which already has the front hub motor your wheel size. These kits are $250 to the door now and include everything needed but the batts. I'm using LiFePO4's. Lot's more testing to see if they will do the 1000 recharges but range is way better than SLA's.

Currently you can get LiFePO4s for less than .40 US per watt/hour out of China by bidding carefully. A nice brushless 48v machine with 25mi. range can now be built for about $550. Recharges run about 7 cents at my locale. When you buy the battery you've basically paid for a lot of the trips' cost already.

Small EV's can be made from anything from drill motors, to skill saws, to commercially available stuff and I'm living proof you don't need to be an electrical engineer to hook them up and make them practical, happy motor-ing.

That's awesome.

Have you tried out any of the Golden Motors products? They are boasting a Regen Controller, but I don't know what people's experience has been with their reliability yet.

What I've been sketching is kind of between a Recumbent Velo Tadpole and a Twike.. have been building other Alt-E projects so far.. and our town/city might not be ready for such vehicles yet.. but I'm getting impatient, so I might be jumping on it soon! Better to ask for forgiveness than permission sometimes.. (I have a 750w and 1800w treadmill motors and a 400w scooter motor one of which I'm hoping will provide the force.. we'll see)

Bob (click on Magic Controller)

-Just had a look at that site -lots of fun stuff there!

Components don't seem so expensive eaither...

I wonder how hard it would be to convert a small car to run on -say 4- of these 5Kw motors, one per wheel...


That's terrific. Great use for treadmill motors! Yep but no I haven't tried a regen controller yet

A 1000w regen kit for $360

A 700 watt 48V kit to the door for $250

For larger vehicles ,talking about small car territory, I have played with a Crystalite x5303 (fast wound) and they will take incredible amounts of power (like 3000w) I have some larger stuff in the works too, but I don't see any reason why a 'car' with a hub motor in each wheel wouldn't work either. Might want to go with 4XX's or other brushed just to avoid the 3 ph. Hall pickup dual motor complication. I'm no engineer.

Anyway I'm pretty well convinced these little EV's can be robust enough for many of our 'needs' even in the dreaded US environment. I'm having trouble getting anything really potent under 50lbs but some old clunkers weighed that much anyway. We ride w/o assist regularly too, doing two metric centuries this weekend.

So much of this is culture. The man said 'you got to get your mind right'.

I was loitering in front of a tractor/hardware store the other day, looking at and trying out all their 'Go Carts', Some Gas, some pedal-powered.. frowning a lot, going 'HMM..' and frightening the children.

Cheap thrills..

hahah yeah done that too

Last year I picked up a Honda Trail 90 (89 cc). Like I had back in the 60s for trail riding.

I repaired it and its very cheap to run. Has 8 gears and kick start. Can go almost anywhere and I can cruise the back roads at up to 45mph.

Built like a billy goat and very easy to maintain. Has a large milk carton mounted on the rear platform. Can turn on a dime. Run thru the woods or paved roads.

I got anohter for a buddy and a spare for parts.

Very close to a moped but better.Street legal also.


The LiFePO4 batteries are trumped by the even lower cost sealed lead acid gel cells if you do not need the range, weight, etc.

The vast majority of Chinese electric bikes use lead acid cells.

The LiFePO4 cells from no name Chinese makers are a crap shoot, some being good, some being awful, and all of them can be potentially hazardous if not handled correctly or with due caution with their high power density.

My plan is to build a side by side, 2 passenger,tadpole trike

similar to this .....

single seaters now available here .....

OldSenileFarmer--Good points and I will add the following re the refrigerator cringeing glumly in the corner.

If you live in a cold house then all the energy used by the refrigerator comes out as heat to heat your house, and probably cancels out the heating bills. So zilch consumption.
If you live instead in a hot house, then without refrigeration you're going to have a jolly hard time keeping your food fresh and not wasting a lot of the valuable stuff before able to eat it. So once again cutting it out is a false economy.

In either case, arguably almost nothing has been so responsible for enhanced health and longevity as has refrigeration of food.

P.S. There isn't going to be a Great Mobilisation. And that won't be because zillions of people are hanging on my words and disillusioned by them.

Good points Robin

We use two large refrigerators as we have a lot of stuff to keep cool until frozen,canned or sold.

One is moved outside onto a covered porch as soon as the weather turns warm,and back inside in the fall when the waste heat helps keep the house warm.This one is kept in a precisely temperature controlled sick room,which is air conditioned roughly half the time.Moving it out helps with the ac and back in again it helps with the heat.

We also do a considerable amount of cooking outside in electric pans and kettles during the summer,which saves no energy since we don't air condition our kitchen,but it sure makes life easier for the cook.

OldFarmer--smart system you have. Even better would be if fridges were designed so you can divert their heat output part to outside or inside depending on that day's weather/heating requirements, a sort of heatpump combined fridge and a/c system. Presumably would just need some plumbing of the refrigerant system?

I believe such systems are available but very expensive up front.I don'thave the necessary expertise to plumb my own.

And never forget the Russian sayiny: Better is the enemy of good enough.

There are other things that I haven't done yet that will pay a better return.Electricity is very cheap here ,as we are powered by coal and nukes.

The big issue now is oil.Finding and reconditioning a Geo Metro or similar car is my highest energy priority for the time being.My Ford Escort gets "only" about 37 mpg on the highway if driven gently.It's too bad I can't afford one of the new VW diesels.

..OR to apply that waste heat to prewarming your hotwater supply.

I'm also eager to finally assemble a long-planned heat exchanger to grab winter cold in a Propylene Glycol solution to help cool indoor fridges ahead of the compressor throughout wintertime.

Great post with some startling numbers about efficiency gains:

In the United States, the combined direct use of gasoline and diesel fuel in farming fell from its historical high of 7.7 billion gallons (29.1 billion liters) in 1973 to 4.2 billion in 2005–a decline of 45 percent.

Can efficiency gains overcome the Malthusian prospect of surging populations in the developing world and rising affluence in the developed world?

E.O. Wilson put the situation succinctly in the following equation:

human population x pollution x affluence
divided by resources = problems


On solar cooling, much work is being done on parabolic radiators, and most of what I've seen is outside the US. For example: (Germany) (Japan) (Italy and global)

There was one fellow at Utah State I think it was, doing work on the engineering and physics of parabolic solar radiators, but I cannot find my links on that.

Re: food preservation, do NOT buy the notion that canning is an efficient technology. It was developed in the 20th century in the form most people know it (Ball/Kerr/Mason) and depends on massive infusions of energy--preparing the food, sterilizing the jars, then processing the jars. Then later washing them again, plus reheating the food.

The same thing can be said for freezing food. Freezing and canning are both 20th century technologies that rest on the assumption that energy is cheap and abundant. Our most abundant energy source--wood--produces decent results for canning, though takes a huge amount of effort, and energy. I gave it up after 30 years in favor of a much better technology: dehydration.

Dehydration can easily be solarized directly or indirectly. I don't mean to pimp here, but if you read the Web site for Excalibur dehydrators, you can get a good intro to dehydration. It has become my major method of capturing and preserving local food windfalls. Also, though that appliance is expensive up front, it's also a workhorse and extremely reliable (more so than any I've built).

Dehydrated foods retain more nutrition, store very compactly (a quart jar can hold five to six giant onions, four to five pounds [wet] of berries, etc.), and take only a fraction of the energy to process. Little to none if you use a passive solar system, and very little if you use a fan-assist (which can also be driven with photons).

Some of the autumn food plants (like winter squash or root vegetables) can be dried very effectively near the woodstove along with the laundry...but the last thing we need that time of year is more moisture in the house.

The more social the better on all this, but I don't want to digress into cooperative strategies.

There are so many ways to cut energy use in the kitchen. These incremental changes add up surprisingly. And probably in a more enduring and effective manner than the big changes (buying an Energy Star appliance, faugh). I tell people often, forget all-or-nothing solutions. For instance, use a solar oven to complete cooking after starting the food on a stove. Even a 30 or 50 % reduction in cooking energy use is outstanding.

Another example is cooking dried beans. If they are washed, soaked for 24 hours, then allowed to sit awhile before cooking, they cook in a fraction of the time, plus have more nutrition and are less likely to be gassy. If cooked using a thermal cooker ("haybox" or other), they need to be simmered for only ten minutes. We are big on soups and stews, cooked slowly either in a thermal cooker (ten minutes on the stove, several hours in the cooker) or solar oven. Dehydrated meats and vegetables work very well for this, while dehydrated vegies, fruits and berries are delicious to eat just as they are (with a tall water chaser). Thermal cookers like the Zojirushi I've found to be a wonderful tool. They work much better than the hayboxes I've built over the years.

My plan is to get rid of our chest freezer in the garage, converting it into a refrigerator. And get rid of the conventional kitchen fridge. It's insane how we run the fridge during the wood heating months. It's like the WWF smackdown--the hot box fighting with the cold box.

Thanks for sharing your dehydrating experiences. I'll reciprocate with my experience using a chest freezer as a refrigerator.

The conversion is pretty simple using a "beer" thermostat. Accessing the refrigerated items was made easier with milk crates, though beware of overweighting them and having someone strain a back muscle.

The BIG problem was condensation. My chest freezer (and probably most others) was apparently designed to freeze foods quickly. So when you opened the lid to access the foods, moist air would contact the very cold areas adjacent to the interior coils and frost would form on them (made for a very easy way to see the serpentine pattern of where the coils were attached to the back of the liner).

Then when the compressor switched off the frost would melt and run to the bottom of the chest. Pretty soon there was quite the puddle in the bottom. Mix in some food drips and spills and makes icky soup down there. And it was very hard to get this water out - we had to use a sponge and bucket.

After a year of this hassle we quit the experiment and got a conventional refrigerator that was almost as efficient as the chest conversion.

How about an upright freezer then?

I had one but let it go. It was nice to not have to dig around down in the bottom of the chest.

Also I think it had a plug in the bottom as a drain.


Hello TODers,

I would encourage readers of this thread to also read my TOD posting series entitled "She comes down from Yellow Mountain.."

If receding horizons is to be our lot in life, the early building of many giant sulfur blocks can help provide a meaningful perspective for future generations to adapt.

By my living in a desert, I am acutely aware of how we can be led astray by following a mirage on the horizon. Sulfur blocks are real; bright yellow semaphore flags on the horizon that by their postPeak shrinking can clearly signal Optimal Overshoot Decline.

Would you rather chase a mirage or this:
"Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
Touched with fire, to the portal,
Of thy radiant shrine, we come.
Your sweet magic frees all others,
Held in Custom's rigid rings.
All men on earth become brothers,
In the haven of your wings."--Schiller
Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

nice , didn't relise we did that

but I think this is a nice way to store sulphur but we're going to be using it with charcoal and salt-petre before we use it for anything else

hmm, not so good for a "mad max" style movie , eh ?


"I remember how the mice were blind,
I watch them fighting in their cage,
could this be the plastic age ? "

About fertilizer, what's the relative energy intensity of nitrogen fertilizer which is made from natural gas vs. P and K which are mined from mineral deposits (I suppose using heavy equipment powered by diesel)?

Hello Dwcal,

Google search is your friend as I have previously posted much on this topic. Generally, Pimental et al seem to think the embedded energy of a 40 lb bag of I-NPK is 3-5 gallons of gasoline. The problem with these calculations is that there are so many different types of I-NPK [DAP,MAP,TSP,Carbamide, Anhydrous, etc]. The USGS and USDA websites are good places to start your research, example:

The greater problem is outright postPeak scarcity as there are No Substitutes for these vital Elements. Recall that K in 1916 was valued at 67 times the value of crude:

My point was more that N, P and K all have different supply chains, and it's not as simple as the embedded energy of each chemical. I-N is made from natural gas, and it's easy to calculate the equivalent fossil fuel energy based on feedstock + process heat. I-PK are mined, and I suspect the energy input for mining and processing is relatively low compared to N, but the issue of depleting mineral deposits is much more serious, as you say.

Modern ammonia plants require around 25 mega joules/ kg.

See Fig. 15 in Ayres, Ayres & Warr

Ammonia can be used directly as N fertilizer or as ammonium nitrate or mono or di-ammonium phosphate.

The most common form of potash, potassium chloride, is solution mined, so the only energy used is in pumping then dehydrating/crystallizing.

I am not sure of most here know that N does not persist in the soil.

Its migrates downward and thus is lost over not too long a time frame.

At least that is true for inorganic N. Or so the Ag Profs tell us.

I no longer use any I-N,P,K but make my own. Cottonseed meal for now.
For the future I guess composting or animal manure will have to be it. Perhaps chicken litter and droppings.

If one sets post in the garden many birds will leave lots of droppings around them. Free Nitrogen. In my barn they totally covered a VW with droppings in short order.


Does this post mean that Lester Brown and his self appointed gang at "The Earth Policy Institute" have finally figured out that ethanol is not a major cause to rising food prices?

If so, progress is being made.

Peak Oil is the main cause of rising food prices, not ethanol.

Couple points
this whole discussion is "back to the future" - our grandparents were doing all these things
and the proportion of their income spent on food was 2X or 3X what we spend now i.e 20 - 30% of income spent on food

think about it

the implications of oil in the entire chain are very very complex to tease out

another point: they say in the time of King Nebuchadnezzer one ounce of gold would buy 350 loaves of bread. That is still broadly true, at least in my store, ordinary bread costs $2.50 - $2.99 per loaf
could store bought bread triple in price?
i think so

and you know, the French revolution and the Russian revolution both occured at the peak of bread prices in their economies

food and energy - the two essentials over the centuries

Lester Brown and his self appointed gang at "The Earth Policy Institute"

The biggest "self-appointed gang" is of course academia and peer review. It would be well to remember that:
# on the one hand, institutional and professional labels such as university and professor ultimately amount to the above phenomenon, just groups of humans endorsing one another, rather than some supernatural access to truth and wisdom;
# on the other hand some people's work is much more expert than others', and those institutional/professional labels can to some extent genuinely reflect this, though in my experience in some important fields** they do the exact opposite, with "professor" being a remarkably accurate synonym for "liar". (**medical, psychology, and Islamic studies)(+ economics?!)

A good score getting Lester Brown to post on TOD, I suppose, even tho it's a brief post. Some good info & perspective in it however. I've followed Brown & his "Worldwatch Institute's" annual "State of the World" series since the 1980s. Brown & his crew deserve a lot of credit.

As for food prep: eat foods raw, unplug the electric food dehydrator & sundry food, dump the chest freezer even if you aren't prepared yet to do without the fridge & its small freezer compartment, can on a wood stove - it takes practice to maintain a constant pressure but I've been doing it for years, cook beans & hard grains in a pressure cooker, dump the propane grill in favor of a wood fire...

Dupe. Sorry. It's the "Drupal" thing...

For people in industrialized countries is 12 gallons of fuel per ton of grain reason for worry? Suppose price of fuel goes up to $20 per gallon. Okay, that's $240 per ton. Granted, the ton still have to get transported to where you live. Suppose it doesn't get fed to animals first. A cost of grain at $300 or even $400 per ton seems cheap enough that we aren't going to starve.

I want to see the math on why people in industrialized countries should fear starvation post-Peak Oil. I'm not saying it is not going to happen. I just want the math spelled out explicitly. Anyone want to take a stab?

Hello FuturePundit,
Olduvai Theory: Toward Re-Equalizing the World Standard of Living
World hunger is projected to reach a historic high in 2009 with 1.02 billion people going hungry every day, according to new estimates published by FAO today.

The most recent increase in hunger is not the consequence of poor global harvests but is caused by the world economic crisis that has resulted in lower incomes and increased unemployment. This has reduced access to food by the poor, the UN agency said...
So what happens when we are all equal? Have you hugged your bag of NPKS today?

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?
..Feeding America is the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity in the United States. Each year, the Feeding America network provides food assistance to more than 25 million low-income people facing hunger in the United States, including more than 9 million children and nearly 3 million seniors.

Our network of more than 200 food banks serves all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The Feeding America network secures and distributes more than 2 billion pounds of donated food and grocery products annually. The Feeding America network supports approximately 63,000 local charitable agencies that distribute food directly to Americans in need. Those agencies operate more than 70,000 programs including food pantries, soup kitchens, emergency shelters, after-school programs, Kids Cafes, Community Kitchens and BackPack Programs.
I expect many more will soon be surprised to find themselves in the hungry column. I tend towards Jay Hanson's Thermo/Gene fast-crash versus the Archdruid's Catabolic Grind, but I am trying to get us moved somewhere in-between by promoting Optimal Overshoot Decline. The Shark-Fin should be a clear warning to all:

I myself have had difficulties with having enough money to buy food, after my mortgage and other debt instruments are paid. It's a hole I dug myself, honestly. I have been selling possessions in an attempt to supplement my income. Does anyone in the Northwest Arkansas area want a 2000 Honda Civic HX for $3800? Heh, it gets 43mpg! (I hate to sell my favorite car, but honestly, I don't need more than 1, and it's the only one I can get any worthwhile money for.)

My take on people who are struggling to pay mortgages: how luxurious compared to, say, living in a hut in Africa or Bangladesh. They don't have to worry about making mortgage payments. But they have to live in a hut.

Yes, your life is hard. But you could walk away from the mortgage, live in a very small mobile home, and have enough money for food. That we spend all that money on housing is a sign of just how high we are falling from.

A friend just moved down from a house to a mobile home. Another friend just moved down from a house to a condo. They aren't spending most of their income on food. So they have room to fall and room to absorb food price increases.

They may only need a hut in Africa because they don't have freezing winters or strong winds, battering rain etc, ad nauseam. They have the luxury of all-round tropical weather instead. And the mobile home degenerates, needs maintenance and replacement, and doesn't have a mobile garden and mobile community mobilising with it.

Hi RobinPC,

I'm surprised to hear this sort of ridiculous generalization about Africa from you. I've only been once, but it was bloody cold on the equator near Mt. Elgon in April! I recently watched soccer matches from South Africa where it was 37° F at game time. About half of Africa's land mass is outside the tropics. There are several monsoon regions.

I know that's not your point, but come on.

shrimppop--You're rightly surprised because I wasn't intending to convey a blanket generalisation. Just in some parts of the vast continent of Africa it is reasonably true, reflected in the fact they do comfortably live in such manner. Of course not in high mountain or down at the farthest south. And how bloody cold compared to Siberia?

People live in dwellings far larger than they need. Sure, a mobile home degenerates. But a small mobile home is far smaller than the average American house and much cheaper to build and maintain.

Tropical weather: I've made the argument elsewhere that the poorer people in Maine, Wisconsin, and other ice box states ought to be encouraged and helped a bit to move south.

the poorer people in Maine, Wisconsin, and other ice box states ought to be encouraged and helped a bit to move south.

The infrastructure they'd leave behind is far more valuable than the relatively minor investments needed to make their homes more efficient, and provide the energy needed for the remaining HVAC needs.

We really shouldn't exaggerate the importance of energy. Sure it's a problem, but only because we've allowed it to be. Decisive action, both an a personal and public level, could solve it relatively quickly.

We just have to make up our minds to solve it, instead of forever taking half-measures (like the timid cap-and-trade bill now being passed) and being the proverbial frogs in a boiling pot.

Agree about homes being more efficient, those in northern US states need only look to Canada. Maybe they should migrate north!

Taking half measures such as the Waxman bill is 1000% better than no measures. Success in increasing renewable energy and reducing CO2 will allow further progress, and allow the build up of new capacity to expand. It's going to take a while to completely replace coal and oil.

Taking half measures such as the Waxman bill is 1000% better than no measures.

Oh, I agree.

I just get frustrated when people assume that because we're not moving quickly to address our oil problems, that they're hopeless or that they require us to completely blow up our lives.

If, as an individual, we want to stop using gasoline, all we have to do is buy a Prius and spend $7k to convert it to a PHEV. Or, get rid of our car and carpool, until EVs are available.

If, as a country, we want to do the same, we need to move dramatically faster to electrify transportation and heating oil: the tech is here, we just need to ramp it up. Part of that is gas taxes, dramatically higher CAFE, and aggressively pushing carpooling and telecommuting.

Doable, cost-effective. We just need to do it.

I think there are limits to how quickly the US economy can change without a "WWII" type mobilization. For example wind energy now accounts for 2% of electricity production, it will take 5 doubles to get to 32%(about 12 years), any faster would create problems with new electric transmission lines. Auto companies seem to be planning to produce 1million EV /PHEV per year by 2012, it will take perhaps 10 years for 90% of vehicle production to be EV/PHEV and another 6 years for 50% of VMT to be electric, but by that time a lot of coal fired electric will be replaced by wind, solar and perhaps additional nuclear in time to replace the 40EJ of oil with 6-8EJ of non-FF electricity. Any sooner we would be replacing oil energy with coal or NG energy.

If the world has passed Peak Oil, gas taxes are not going to be needed to speed the transition. Direct gasoline rationing will be much more effective especially for those that can afford a new Volt or Plug-in Prius, they can afford extra gasoline taxes but rationing will really hit home. The rest of us can then buy the secondhand PHEV's at a reasonable price. Dramatically higher CAFE seems a win-win for everyone, no reason that after 2016 the CAFE standards cannot be ratcheted up taking into account PHEV/EV contributions.

I agree with much of what you say, but here are some thoughts.

I think there are limits to how quickly the US economy can change without a "WWII" type mobilization.

Demand is shifting to hybrids and small cars - their market share is going up - but we need to make the shift much faster. While oil/gasoline prices were rising, small car & hybrid sales jumped, and light truck (SUV & pickup) sales fell sharply. When the credit crunch hit, all sales fell. Now, small car & hybrid production capacity is currently under-utilized. The most important example, perhaps, is the Toyota Prius plant in Texas that was intended to double production, but is now mothballed, waiting for demand to pick up.

Light truck sales fell from 60% of the market to 45% at the peak of oil prices, but have partially recovered (in terms of % market share) since. US new car sales is still about 50% SUV & pickups, and small car production capacity is distinctly under-utilized.

If the world has passed Peak Oil, gas taxes are not going to be needed to speed the transition.

As you can see from the above, we can move faster. A gradual increase in the gas tax, with certainty of much higher levels in the future, would create the demand that we need right now.

Direct gasoline rationing will be much more effective especially for those that can afford a new Volt or Plug-in Prius

Rationing is incredibly inefficient and counter-productive. Much better to address the injury to those with lower incomes by rebating the tax income to those who need it.

I think you are wrong about rationing being inefficient. The UK had food rationing in WWII and the general nutrition of the population improved.

Rationing has the advantage of changing peoples perceptions of long term oil availability. With price, people can hope for a return to "normal prices". Presently oil use accounts for about 5% of GDP( all other energy about 5%) so we could see considerable higher taxes and prices for gasoline(about 2-3% of GDP) and still have very similar consumption.

Rationing works short-term by encouraging car pooling and eliminating unnecessary trips. Long term it encourages high fuel efficient vehicles and mass transit. Most importantly it keeps the distribution infrastructure costs from rising.

the general nutrition of the population improved.

Interesting. Do we know why?

The UK had food rationing

That was food, which is easier. Everyone needs the same amount, adjusted for gender, age, weight and exercise - in a pinch you can just feed all adults the same amount, just adjusting for gender. And, it was wartime, which has its own legitimacy, and more important, is time limited.

Rationing has the advantage of changing peoples perceptions of long term oil availability. With price, people can hope for a return to "normal prices".

True. There's a certain value there, but the extraordinary depth of economic inefficiency it creates isn't worth it. Why? In part because rationing implies price controls, which screws everything up. Now, if you're talking no price controls, I might get on board. Even better, gas/carbon taxes and rationing would be good.

Presently oil use accounts for about 5% of GDP( all other energy about 5%) so we could see considerable higher taxes and prices for gasoline(about 2-3% of GDP) and still have very similar consumption.

Yes, in the very short term. In the longer term, if a government just communicated a very different future, people would respond. Even more importantly, people would go to substitutes, like PHEVs, very quickly. IOW, short-term and long-term demand elasticities are very different. And, if pricing were higher, they would do it in an efficient way. For instance, many would use much less than their ration quotas: they'd buy a PHEV or EV, and pretty much stop using gas altogether.

Greetings and salutations totoneila,

I am not convinced we are all going to become equal or even remotely close to equal.

NPKS: Nick G points to an argument for a far larger amount of accessible phosphorus.

K is pretty much a function of potash mining reserves. I hear the argument that people do not look for K deposits all that often because it costs so much to start up a K mine. The idea here is that we have lots more that hasn't been found because people haven't looked that hard.

N is pretty much a function of how much energy we have to reduce atmospheric N2 to NH3. I grant that we aren't going to have a lot of oil energy. But nukes, wind, and solar seem like adequate sources of energy for making N fertilizer.

S seems like in big supply from cleaning up coal and bitumen tar. That bitumen tar looks to be lasting for some decades near as I can tell.

For the next 15 or so years we seem to have a good supply of natural gas. I'm starting to think we'll have an economic depression but not a societal collapse. Living standards may drop in half. But that still only puts us back to the 1940s maybe. We had an industrial society then.

During the 2010s and 2020s once the reality of Peak Oil is accepted we will have a couple of decades to develop technologies for transition.

So I expect things to get bad but not societal-collapse bad.

Look at it in terms of total energy flows. The United States uses about 100 quadrillion BTU per year. Is that even going to get cut in half by Peak Oil? If so, how? Spell out the math.

The nukes aren't going to stop working. We have enough coal to keep the coal electric plants burning for a few decades maybe. We have a lot more natural gas than we previously thought. Wind and solar technologies are advancing.

Futurepundit--There are so many fallacies in your comment, all off topic from this page's topic of food, that I don't propose to answer any of them here, and ditto I expect anyone else. These fallacies have been addressed elsewhere on TOD.

These fallacies have been addressed elsewhere on TOD.

Actually...they haven't. And, FP's comments are pretty relevant.

I'd particularly like to see someone comment on the link at the top of his comment about phosphorus.

Nick--On reviewing FP I think you're correct that my statement was wrong about his/her/its paragraphs preceding the one about gas.

My first impulse was to agree that the later comments were off-topic.

OTOH, most of the comments here seem to assume collapse. It seems useful to me to address that highly unrealistic assumption. Heck, I think FP was way too pessimistic.

Nick, I'm surprised you think FP was way too pessimistic, because s/he twice says there is unlikely to be social collapse and yet fails to give much explanation of why. You presumably reckon likewise. I've written up an account of some possible reasons why there would be an abrupt collapse in the next few years. I'd be interested to know what you non-collapsniks think of them. You could either post comments on that blog, or (less appropriately, as probably OT) hereunder.

A few thoughts on your assumptions:
1) needs to be clarified: just crude? crude & condensate?
3) what other energy? coal? nat gas?
4) is completely unsupported. Why should cheap oil be essential?

"Given a relentless decline of energy available for long-distance travel and communication, then some sort of reduction of global systems/organisations followed by national ones is inevitable sooner or later."

Is unsupported, and unrealistic. See:

On a sudden shortage:

We could face a sudden loss off all oil exports from the Persian Gulf due to, say, someone bombing enrichment facilities in Iran, or civil insurrection in the region (monarchies aren't the most stable of governments).

Emergency measures could easily reduce consumption by 25% in 6 months by conservation (just make all highway lanes HOV, strictly enforced), and drilling (in ANWR and off the coasts) and large-scale CTL could both be done in 3 years under truly emergency conditions.Many analysts project conditions that reflect a true emergency, and assume Business As Usual responses. That makes no sense.

We have more than enough energy to build new vehicles. For that matter, we can carpool and telecommute during the transition. We really can. I'm often baffled by the lack of awareness of the potential of carpooling: the US could cut it's oil consumption by 25% in 3 months, if it chose to. It would be inconvenient, and require an emergency to do, but everyone would still get to work.

I'll give further thoughts, as I have time.

I looked over the link you provided. One comment about the oil shortage/ five days food supply total collapse scenario.
1) gasoline and diesel rationing is ready to be implemented
2)most food is moved by diesel, not affected by gasoline fuel tank top-up panic.Trucks have dedicated wholesale fuel supplies. how do you think diesel and gasoline are delivered to retail outlets?
3)the 5 days food supply is wrong, perhaps 5 days of some items, fresh vegetables, meat, milk. The US has very large supplies of maize, wheat, flour, beans rice. A few trucks or one train can transport these into any US city in a few days, using minor amounts of diesel. The diet may be boring, but no one needs to starve short term, food rationing can be introduced longer term if needed.
Electricity supply including coal transport uses <2% of diesel, food transport about 3% of oil, NG distribution almost no oil, same for hydro, wind and nuclear power. Even in an extreme situation with NO oil imports from overseas people are going to have light, heat, food, but restricted gasoline powered mobility. Employees will have to car pool or use mass-transit, perhaps leaving for work an hour earlier and walking 1-2 miles for mass transit or to a neighbor to car pool.

Now if all electricity was to fail permanently a much more serious situation, virtually nothing would work, but why would this occur? Even without coal 50% of the electricity generation and 80% of the capacity would be intact.

Neil, thanks for some interesting comments which look potentially sound. Rather than we continue off-topic here I suggest you copy your above to the collapse article on my blog, or I could copy it over myself. But meanwhile I've just noticed the new post here about kitegen which is raising the possibility that I won't need to run for the hills for a few years yet anyway (--am hoping to start ploughing through the comments thereon tomorrow).

There is no reason to think that we will starve in countries such as the US if you assume peak oil does not mean the end of industrial civilization.Food will certainly be a lot more expensive and there will be less variety,but you will probably still be able to get some out of season fruit,etc, if you live in an affluent nieghborhood capable of supporting an upscale grocery store.

If tshtf really hard,we will probably still be able to keep food avalable to our entire population by means of rationing and cutting out packaging,processing,long distance shipping,etc.By that time you will have parked your car for all intents and purposes for lack of fuel-unless maybe you have an electric.

But if things get so bad that the commercial farmers can't buy new trucks and tractors,and shippers can't get fuel to haul the crops to town,lots of people will starve-unless the crash comes in very slow motion.There is no way we can return to an agrarian society on short notice.

The various back to the land,urban farming,etc, movements will help but it seems very likely that these movements will not grow fast enough to save most people.

Sorry no math buit math is not the answer to this problem in the sense that it is the an swer to an engineering problem.We can only make educated guesses as to the various ways events may unfold,and accurate cost projections are simply not possible.

But I have calculated that given the fact that our family farm is already mechanized,I could more easily pay fifty bucks per gallon for diesel than I could go back to a mule team and raise apples the way my great grand parents did.This would hold true for as long as our machinery lasts of course.With diesel at fifty bucks per gallon, I guess a new tractor would run into the millions.

If this fifty dollar figure seems to be un realistic,consider that my grandfather as a very young man hauled hauled about a ton to a ton and a half or produce to town in a wagon and the round trip took about 14 to 16 hours.The horses could not be worked for a day or two afterwards after such a trip, but they had to be fed anyway.

We can haul eight tons with a modern truck using about six gallons of diesel and spend less than an hour on the road round trip.The truck eats nothing on days it's not used.

The horses could not be worked for a day or two afterwards after such a trip

How did he know? Did he hear it from the horses's mouths? ("We can't be worked today.") And believed them?

Of course they told him,and of course he believed them.What honest farmer would dis believe his own horse which he has known and worked with for years?And besides any lawyer will tell yoy that no horse has ever been proven to tell a lie,even if not sworn.Now a mule on the other hand would lie to his own mother for an ear of sweet corn,even if it was wormy!

Seriously speaking, twenty year old marines can march fifty miles with field packs in a day-but only a very few can manage a second fifty mile day and to my knowledge none have ever done three days in a row.

Professional athletes such as baseball pitchers can't perform at the limit-which is the norm-without several days rest between games.

Any body who worked horses as hard as my great grandfather today would soon be in court answering to the animal welfare police(county vet and peta,etc) but the people worked just as hard on certain days.As a matter of fact my great grandfather spent many many more hours "in harness" on a monthly basis than his horses and mules.By the time I was old enough to know what was what the last horse was out to pasture permanently-no draft animal was ever slaughtered or sold for slaughter by my family-and there was only one mule which was used very sparingly for certain tasks such as cultivating the gardens,hauling a few small logs out of the woods occasionally, and so forth.Tractors had prettty well taken over by the early fifties.

But the older generation kept one last mule in the family until sometime in the early nineties mostly for old times sake. But even then there were a few days when that mule came in handy.

The horses would have simply been unable to work the next day,except for perhaps some very light intermittent work,and were allowed thier days of rest as a matter of good management.

Such long trips with heavy loaded wagons on mountian roads were rare and if made regularly would have necessarily been made with an overnight stay at the far end.

When I was younger I used to "play cowboy" on a ranch in southern New Mexico, on the west side of the southern Black Range. This was very rough country. During roundups the ranch manager would assign four horses to each of us. We would wear out each horse in half a day, cycling thru the four in two days before starting over. Chasing wild cows up & down the steep slopes completely wore out a horse before lunch. They needed a day and a half to recover from half a day's very hard work. It was great fun!

To OFM and DD,

Horses and mules. A lot depends on how you feed them.
A horse/mule must forage for pasture almost continually due to the stomach size. They nibble a while, rest a while, nibble a while and so on.

So to work them one must use grain and hay for roughage. Corn have the highest, in my understanding, energy value. Oats next.

Oats and corn and some forage and I beleive one could ride across America averaging about 20 to 30 miles per day. This is NOT galloping them or even loping for long periods. Its walk and trot, walk and trot.

The mules that pulled wagons across the prairies surely did not let the mules rest two days after each days work.

We gave our mules ear corn and a bin of good hay after each workday of plowing or disking. Watered them well and used them again the next day. Had to for the weather was what determinded your schedule.

Shod them as well. Took very good care of them but used big mules and worked them. I remember like yesterday down on 20 or 30 acre fields following my pappy and watching those mules sweat hard and long.

He was a master mule trainer and he always knew his mules and what they could do. A hard days work for a man was just the same as a hard days work for a mule. You didn't get a day off until the time was right due to the needs of the fields and crops.

Yet overall it was not totally drudge work. IF ,,a big IF you had some offspring. Me and my brother provided that. I was laying off fields with a three mule team when I was 9 years old. Driving what we called a log...a sled of flat plants to layout the field for the planter. Required no skill for the idea was to just cover the whole field and make it even.

Corn in this case was the absolute key to animal usage. That and good water and hay. And each night they rested enough that the devils would somehow open the gate and run off down the road...I can hear my old grandfather cussing in the bed. We let them go and caught em up next day...then redid the gate catches.


Yes ,mules are definiely tougher than horses,and Old Pa did normally work his horses and mules all day on a regular basis when they were needed.Actually he normally never had more than two or three at any one time.

And he was right out there with them ,making every step they made,just like your folks.I caught just the tail end of it myself,mostly with a gooseneck hoe or a scythe.

When I was eighteen years old I picked a hundred and sixty bushels of apples,whick meant at least a hundred trips up a ladder 22 feet long,to every twig on six big trees,and stacked them on an old flat bed truck,three trips,and offloaded them in the barn, in ten hours.Then I fed the grader for a couple of hours and then we went coon hunting.My personal record is 180,but I always had to do some other stuff too.

I never had an oppurtunity to play high school sports but when I enrolled in college I had to take a physical education class,and on the first day in the gym I could out do any other guy there any where near my size, who HAD been playing ball, on a machine that measured how strong my legs were.(These were just high school ball players,not the college team.)

The local record picking day light to dark is 277 bushels,held by one of my uncles,but he didn't do anything else that day and the apples were especially large and thick on the trees.

We had some migrant Jamacians work in our area that could AVERAGE two hundred bushels in "good picking",and a couple said they had personal records over three hundred.I believed them, having no reason not to.

The average person from an urban environment who has only worked in an office or even a factory simply cannot understand just how hard it really was.

But that wagon trip to town was way more than a regular day,more like two regular days,and the wagon was loaded to the limit on the way to town,and usually had some thing in it on the way back too -maybe a few hundred pounds of salt,and a couple of kegs of nails,etc-for the local storekeeper mostly, maybe a roll or two of barbwire for his own use.

This trip was really just right at the limit,and was made with such a big load maybe only a couple of times a year.I can't be too sure of the details because nobody kept any records,and Momma is senile now.

How did he know?

Stockmanship, which includes paying close attention to the animal; how it looks, moves, behaves, eats, works and so on.

Horses are heavily muscled animals, the overwork of which can result in Sporadic Exertional Rhabdomyolysis and a dead horse, which is the animal equivalent of burning your tractor to the ground.

Those who didn't know found out very quickly and often the hard way. Much that the old timers knew was learned by "hands on" apprenticeship and, as a consequence, is lost to us. Running a tractor is much easier than working a horse.

Sporadic Exertional Rhabdomyolysis

At last! The diagnosis of what I've been suffering from all these years! Well-earned rest (and a lot more respect) called for immediately.

There is no reason to think that we will starve in countries such as the US if you assume peak oil does not mean the end of industrial civilization.Food will certainly be a lot more expensive and there will be less variety,but you will probably still be able to get some out of season fruit,etc, if you live in an affluent nieghborhood capable of supporting an upscale grocery store.

If tshtf really hard,we will probably still be able to keep food avalable to our entire population by means of rationing and cutting out packaging,processing,long distance shipping,etc.By that time you will have parked your car for all intents and purposes for lack of fuel-unless maybe you have an electric.

But if things get so bad that the commercial farmers can't buy new trucks and tractors,and shippers can't get fuel to haul the crops to town,lots of people will starve-unless the crash comes in very slow motion.There is no way we can return to an agrarian society on short notice.

The various back to the land,urban farming,etc, movements will help but it seems very likely that these movements will not grow fast enough to save most people.

Sorry no math buit math is not the answer to this problem in the sense that it is the an swer to an engineering problem.We can only make educated guesses as to the various ways events may unfold,and accurate cost projections are simply not possible.

But I have calculated that given the fact that our family farm is already mechanized,I could more easily pay fifty bucks per gallon for diesel than I could go back to a mule team and raise apples the way my great grand parents did.This would hold true for as long as our machinery lasts of course.With diesel at fifty bucks per gallon, I guess a new tractor would run into the millions.

If this fifty dollar figure seems to be un realistic,consider that my grandfather as a very young man hauled hauled about a ton to a ton and a half or produce to town in a wagon and the round trip took about 14 to 16 hours.The horses could not be worked for a day or two afterwards after such a trip, but they had to be fed anyway.

We can haul eight tons with a modern truck using about six gallons of diesel and spend less than an hour on the road round trip.The truck eats nothing on days it's not used.

I'm thinking that farms can switch much of their energy usage to natural gas and electricity. It has dawned on me that natural gas distribution to farms might be key in responding to Peak Oil.

I know some figures on fuel consumption rates for some California row crop (vegetable) farms and, well, one big one I know about spends a 6 figure amount per month on diesel. That's a lot of energy. But it also seems to me that running natural gas distribution pipes to water pump locations might come to make economic senses at some point. But I do not know enough about available natural gas lines and pipe laying costs to calculate whether this will make economic sense.

Most farmers are already using electricity when it is practical to do so-meaning they need the power in a fixed location and the grid is capable of supplying it.When you are way out in the boonies you can't always get enough juice to run high horsepower motors.

I don't know much about the natural gas distribution system,except that it's not very extensive outside cities and there are lots of cities with little or no gas infrastructure.

But tractors, trucks,and irrigation pumps can be made to run on gas if it is delivered in pressurized tanker trucks and off loaded into a large storage tank.Lots of farmers are set up this way already,and it's no big deal once the switch is made.It's usually refered to as lp or lp gas and is generally propane rather than methane.It has some serious advantages in that it has usually been cheaper and engines last longer burning it.But I may be way out of date on prices,since farmers in my area use diesel and gasoline exclusively.

It is also not going to be an insurmountable problem to produce enough ethanol or biodiesel or both to run the farm sector as a last resort,but we simply don't have enough land,water,and fertilizer to run the whole economy on biofuels.

An unexpected consequence of Peak Oil and Peak Phosphorous may be the rise of the potato

As you drive past wheat fields in your PHEV you could wonder what will happen when farm diesel and NPK is unaffordable. Sure no-till and livestock grazing of stubble help somewhat. I also suspect in future there may be a return to the age old practice of fallowing and burning to enhance soil texture and fertility. The result will be lower average yields the same time as the world has ever more mouths to feed.

Therefore I think we will be eating less bread, pasta and other wheat based products. Deflation or not the price of bread is likely to rise. To fill our guts we will be eating several serves a day of the humble spud grown close to home. Forget plastic wrapping.

Potatoes need just a few square metres per person of simple compost and good soil. They don't need plows, combine harvesters or truckloads of NPK. Any soil additives can be measured in teaspoonfuls.

I have started eating Garlic Potatoes with the skins included-a big improvement over skinless mashed potatoes-I have no idea why this isn't more popular (not on the menu in most restaurants).

Why not in restaurants? Because they are treated with 'sprout inhibitors' and not good to eat that skin. However home grown is fine.

This is what I was told and I tend to believe it about the inhibitors.


Irrigation pumps use diesel fuel, natural gas, or coal-fired electricity.

Most do, but some pivot systems run off the grid* and increasingly they're powered by photovoltaics.

*which, in the US, faces very little danger of energy depletion; uses very little oil; and is moving in the direction of wind, solar and nuclear power (from a slow start, but with increasing speed).

This is one of the reasons I could just wring the necks of the folks who can't talk about algae in terms other than oil from algae.

I just finished making hay for our livestock the other day, about 50 round bales (~500 lbs ea). If I'm calc. right, it took about 1 gal./bale of diesel to mow, rake, bale and move. Not including a lot of other things like oil & grease for the equipment & plastic baler twine. I'm not sure how much hay one person could put up by hand...

We need hay for winter and droughts. For now, we have less animals than a our place could support. They graze all summer (if no drought) without feeding hay. I do know of a guy nearby who grazes all winter even in light snow, very little hay. He does not over stock.

We eat some of what we grow (saves on the food bill) so, the livestock only has to be transported to the slaughter house and back ~4 miles. The sheep can be put in the back of a small pick-up, cattle we need a larger truck and trailer to move.

At least our large garden is mostly by hand and the poop from the animals and cover crops help fertilize it -- less energy used. Some of our lettuce is only 20 ft from the house, a 20 foot salad anyone? :)

Congrats to TOD for persuading Lester Brown to send us a post.

I've criticized Mr. Brown harshly on the demonizing of biofuels which he doesn't seem to push as he did last year. He may be simply trying to avoid the topic or possibly to have changed or moderated his opinion.

He does rightly point out the huge energy demands of food processing and packaging.
Paper bags is a bigger energy waster than plastic bags. Unfortunately the recycling of plastic food plastics is small and turning them into fuel is wasteful.

The US produces 30 million tons of plastic waste per year and 7 million tons of that is food related(rigid and flexible) and the amount of plastic food packaging is increasing at ~5% per year.

Americans eat 40 million tons of meat per year, 80 million tons of milk products, 40 million tons of fruits and nuts and 40 million tons of vegetables and 30 million tons of grains. Total ~230 million tons.

On average US food travels 2000 miles from takes farm to the dinner table.

Diesel trucks use about 2500 BTU per ton mile. So you might figure that to transport food one way takes +1150 trillion BTUs or +8 billion gallons of diesel fuel(US uses 45 billion gallons of diesel fuel per year). Trains use about 500 BTU per ton mile.

I've criticized Mr. Brown harshly on the demonizing of biofuels which he doesn't seem to push as he did last year. He may be simply trying to avoid the topic or possibly to have changed or moderated his opinion.

Maj--you falsely infer a change of view here (I guess). It's just that (a) biofuels are off topic from this post on food energy, and (b) the "demonising" has triumphed (rightly/wrongly) to the extent that it is now for the biofuelists to make a new case rather than for their existing one to be challenged.


Why should biofuels, the partial replacement for oil, be off-topic in a post about oil intensity of food? Earthwatch loudly blamed biofuel production for the 2007-8 run up in food prices(and food riots) and now he doesn't mention it in a post on oil and food?

I for one am not satisfied with your guess that it is 'off-topic' for whatever reason.

IMO, events have shown that claims that production of biofuels is competing with farmland were hysterically overblown and the real cause was speculator greed and hoarding.

In 2009 the production of palm oil and soybean oil is strongly up in non-OECD countries and slightly down(10%) in the EU and the US despite oil's tumble.

Meanwhile oil palm prices are 50% off the high.

Why should biofuels, the partial replacement for oil, be off-topic in a post about oil intensity of food?

Not merely "off topic"; you are proposing that he is obliged to discuss them in a post specifically titled about "oil intensity of food". Because biofuels are not about, or crucial to, the oil intensity of food???!

IMO, events have shown that claims that production of biofuels is competing with farmland were hysterically overblown and the real cause was speculator greed and hoarding.

But quite how can biofuels (other than algae etc) not be in competition with food crops for the available land and other agri inputs?
You wouldn't be in the grip of an agenda by any chance?!

But quite how can biofuels (other than algae etc) not be in competition with food crops for the available land and other agri inputs?

Cellulosic ethanol out of agricultural waste for example. The USDA estimates
428 million tons of crop residue equivalent to 30 billion gallons of gasoline in energy. Even if a part of this is needed for soil rotation
this is a huge amount of fuel.
(China uses about 20 billion gallons of gasoline per year)

It seems a bit contradictory to me:

The big energy user in the food system is the kitchen refrigerator, not the farm tractor.

Improving on refrigiration is actually rather easy: Buy a new one, preferrably the 'box type'(how do you say that in english?) and put it in the basement. Plus electricity is not oil. Solving the electricity problem is completely different from solving the oil problem. It also seems simpler to me.

Does anyone know where Lester Brown got his figure of 9 billion barrels of oil discovered in 2008? Without some reference, it could just be made up, or exclude some classes of oil.