Thursday, May 12, 2011

U.S. Farm Productivity Versus Energy Use

The above graph speaks volumes in demonstrating the productivity and efficiency gains which have been achieved by our modern agricultural system over the past fifty years. Farm output is 158% higher today than sixty years ago. The U.S. population has gone up nearly 400% during the past century while food and clothing prices have remained low. In addition, we have been able to export large amounts of agricultural commodities to the rest of the world.

The next graph demonstrates that this increased production is being achieved using relatively less energy. In other words, efficiency gains have been achieved through a variety of methods over the years.

Are we at a turning point? Are there more efficiencies to be gained? Or will farmers be returning to organic farming methods which use less expensive inputs out of economic necessity (rather than ethical choice) at some point in the future? Which farming systems would be the most logical choices for continuing energy intensive methods and which systems would be most adaptive for organic methods? Can we intelligently combine the best of both worlds? How will policy-makers respond?