Category Archives: Agriculture

The big gains for ag are in the biological sciences.

The most promise for science intervening to boost agriculture is going to come from the biology side of science. Engineering has had a fine day, but I think the promise of water projects and irrigation is largely delivered, with some moderate implementation left. Chemistry was a fucking disaster. The increased yields from fertilizers and pesticides were nice, but coming to depend on them is a dangerous way to live in a finite world. The pollution costs have been very high. I always hated chemistry.

I don’t especially love biology, but I think that’s the place to look for big gains in the next few decades. Using fancy-sounding biology to explain and verify agricultural craft is a good way to resurrect it. Even more than that, I am resentfully seeing the need for altered plants. There’s talk of turning annual plants into perennials and getting a crop off for multiple years. We could use plants modified to take up salts. We could use crops better able to withstand dry conditions. That may mean GMO’s, which makes me sulky and resistant. But perhaps they’re too useful a tool to refuse.

In any case, I think it is going to mean a lot of very close biological and agronomic study. How much can you deficit irrigate your crops and what happens to yields next year? What is going to happen to nitrogen uptake in a high carbon atmosphere? Why does good tilth increase water retention in soils? What plants and practices increase soil carbon sequestration? I think the biological sciences hold some answers that will give us an edge, and I’ll take every advantage we can get.

Comments Off on The big gains for ag are in the biological sciences.

Filed under Agriculture

More on the future of agriculture; boundaries and drivers.

Fortunately, all the problems from climate change and depletion point to similar and overlapping solutions. Unfortunately, the solutions will require radical change. It will also considerably reduce California food output, decrease meat in our diet and increase prices.

There are a few realities that I think will form the boundaries of what happens. Within those, we can make choices to direct how agriculture ends up.

First, oil is a substitute for labor. As oil becomes too expensive to be used for current mechanization, human and animal labor will fill in behind it or the enterprise will stop. Increasing energy use efficiency can give us some elasticity in substitution, but re-fitting machines also costs money

California is a great growing region, with very large areas of world class soils and a long growing season close to millions of comparatively rich eaters. Unless we get into paleodrought hydrology, we have enough water to sustain less agriculture (about 2/3rds) as well as desert-friendly cities.

Food prices will go up substantially, either because of reduced supply as land goes out of production, or oil or labor costs, or both. If meat and dairy production are forced to internalize their environmental costs, large concentrated operations will end.

The next many decades will see a constantly moving climate with increasing major perturbations. Under those conditions, rather than lock in expensive responses, the guiding principles should be preserving future capacity and being able to return to productivity after a flood, drought or fire.

These are the drivers that we will be reacting to. We should make decisions about how we want to respond to these constraints. We are a wealthy enough society that we have a lot of resources to put into shaping the agricultural sector.

1 Comment

Filed under Agriculture