Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Peak Agriculture

Is Agriculture Nearing its Peak?
By Troy Hadrick

With the continued rise of energy prices, a new phrase has cropped up this year – “peak oil.” The phrase can be heard almost anytime you turn on a television news channel or read anytime you pick up a newspaper.

Peak oil points up the fact that there is a finite supply of oil in the world, and at some point, the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction will be reached, after which, the rate of oil production enters a period of terminal decline.

The idea of hitting a peak in the availability or production of anything seems hard to fathom in the United States. Anything consumers want is available almost on demand. This is especially true for the food we eat. Fresh vegetables are available year round, the meat counter is always full, bread and cereals line the aisles, and we can always wash it down with a glass of milk.

Recently, the cost of food has risen in this country, and one can’t help but wonder if, or more likely when, the United States will face a “Peak Agriculture” scenario.

On a daily basis somewhere in this country agriculture is under attack. Recently, a judge in Missouri declared no hog farms could be built within a 15-mile radius of state parks. That same judge also decided manure could not be transported to or applied to any field in that same area. In one fell swoop, this judge decided more than 700 square miles of Missouri agricultural land would be declared off-limits for feeding pigs.

This November, California voters will decide whether or not to allow animals to be raised in environmentally-controlled systems. Many researchers believe that if passed, this bill would virtually eliminate egg production in California.

When things like this happen, where does our food production ability go? Land, like oil, is a finite resource. As grandpa used to say, “They ain’t makin’ anymore of it.” So will the United States reach a point where agriculture is forced over the peak agriculture line and we no longer have the ability to feed ourselves? When will U.S. agriculture hit that maximum production level, for whatever reason, and future production struggle to meet demand?

Thanks to the oil industry, we have seen how successful the strategy of relying on foreign countries for basic needs has worked for us. Yet history seems doomed to repeat itself when it comes to food production unless we start doing something about it.

This isn’t about rural versus urban, small farms versus large farms, or animal agriculture versus the animal rights crowd. This is about continuing to have a safe, affordable, home-grown food supply.

No one knows when peak agriculture may occur, but at this rate we are certain it is a question of when, not if. Remember, exporting our agriculture industry means importing food, and that’s something none of us should be comfortable with.

To hear an audio excerpt of this article click here.

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