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PeakOil is You

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Peak SOIL

Peak SOIL

Unread postby Newfie » Fri 25 May 2018, 06:54:52

The topic of soil depletion and recovery rates has come up a couple of times recently. And since our current commercial crops rely upon FF based fertilizers I thought this might be an interesting topic of discussion.

Here are a few quick hit google searches to prime the pump.

Back in 1940, for every calorie of fossil fuel energy used, 2.3 calories of food energy were produced. Now, the situation has reversed: it takes 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce just one calorie of food energy. As food writer and campaigner Michael Pollan remarked in the New York Times:

"Put another way, when we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases."



https://www.theguardian.com/environment ... ing-itself

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-peak ... HC20140717

https://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News ... -Give.html
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Re: Peak SOIL

Unread postby onlooker » Fri 25 May 2018, 18:18:33

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-indi ... SKCN10T1HG
More than a quarter of India’s land is turning to desert and the rate of degradation of agricultural areas is increasing, according to new analysis of satellite images.

All part of the ongoing soil apocalypse
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Re: Peak SOIL

Unread postby asg70 » Sat 26 May 2018, 11:50:25

"Put another way, when we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases."

That has been a powerful meme for a long time but heavily abused by doomers. For instance, the main feedstock for fertilizer via haber-bosch is natural gas, not oil, and it can also be created through renewable resources like hydro power (which used to be the primary method). As for farm equipment...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJOyITolHUk
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Re: Peak SOIL

Unread postby onlooker » Sat 26 May 2018, 14:07:18

Yes but natural gas relies a great deal on oil for its mining, transport and usefulness !
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Re: Peak SOIL

Unread postby Newfie » Sat 26 May 2018, 21:11:16

I think it was Baha who, on another thread said we need roughly 4 acres of arable land per person and used that to calculate Earths sustainable population limit at about 850 millions. If that ratio is correct we are waaay last peak soil.
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Re: Peak SOIL

Unread postby Tanada » Sat 26 May 2018, 22:33:06

Newfie wrote:I think it was Baha who, on another thread said we need roughly 4 acres of arable land per person and used that to calculate Earths sustainable population limit at about 850 millions. If that ratio is correct we are waaay last peak soil.


Fortunately it is not accurate. I have pointed out on this website a dozen or so times that world population before the fossil fuel industrial revolution was about 850 million, and at that time Australia, central Africa and half of both South America and North America were not being exploited for agriculture. Just exploiting those regions which were not yet in production in 1800 (most of the USA and Canada, a chunk of Mexico and half of South America) would easily bring that number up to 1,500 Million aka 1.5 Billion. That also presumes your best farm equipment is an iron spike edge wooden plow drawn by an ox! Now add in modern grains that are substantially higher yield through thousands of generations of selective breeding in the last 200 years. Then add in steel plows ala John Deere (who owned the patent for the first steel plow in North America) and McCormick style reapers drawn by oxen or draft horses. Take a look at a Mennonite/Amish farm some time, the machines they use are animal powered and require a lot of effort to handle, but they get the job done in a reasonable fashion.

Look I am a historian by training and grew up on a small farm raising poultry and beef with an occasional hog or sheep. Farmers tend to be dour folk at times because it is a labor intensive trade where you need good insurance because nature can be a real b____ about droughts, deluges, hailstorms, blights and weeds and unexpected events you might never see coming until they slam you to the ground. But they are in no wise stupid. Farmers have managed to eke out not only a personal living but provide sustenance to city folks going all the way back at least 8,000 years. If some of the theories about river delta farms that were lost when the last ice age ended are accurate then farming actually goes back a few thousand more years than that. there is some archeological evidence that farming was going on quite successfully on the continental shelves that were rapidly flooded when the ice dams broke and the huge glacial meltwater lakes flooded out the Columbia gorge into the Pacific and the Saint Lawrence Seaway into the Atlantic around 13,000 ybp. Bits and pieces that indicate settled agricultural communities exists on those continental verges off the Indian Subcontinent and around the Black Sea have been pulled up in drag nets by fishermen scores of times, and the investigations of those relics have lead to some interesting possibilities.

Baha's four acre concept is based on pure row crop agriculture, which is actually a pretty lousy way to farm and highly dependent on modern fossil fuel inputs like the huge agribusinesses shrunk down to a small scale. On four acres of poor quality land you can raise 320 healthy chickens in a relatively free range system where you have eight flocks of 40 that you rotate through the land instead of letting them pick and choose at random. If you are smart enough to do that you are smart enough to cull out all but 16 of the roosters, two per flock. With the rest being hens that gives you 300 eggs per day. You might be deathly sick of eggs on an all egg diet, but one to two dozen eggs a day will sustain a healthy adult human indefinitely providing all the necessary fats and essential proteins you need to be physically healthy. Say you love eggs and eat four dozen a day. 300-48=252 eggs to sell or trade with other folks for other things ranging from cash to a wider variety of foods DAILY. You can also pickle eggs pretty easily, or cook them and freeze the cooked eggs for later consumption, and best of all with such a large flock you will need to let a select number of hens reproduce with the aid of those roosters you saved each year to replace the hens that are slowing down in their production through the effects of time. A good laying hen has a useful existence of 3-5 years depending on how slow a production rate you find acceptable. Commercial egg operations often slaughter layers at age 2 because they are aiming for max production rates, but that is an economic decision, not a hard fast rule of nature. A ten year old hen will still lay eggs, just at a vastly lower rate rather than a new egg every day. Those hens you breed replacements for become your chicken soup for those cold winter days and the roosters you slaughter at maturity in excess of the breeding stock you keep are your Sunday Dinner.

Point being, an animal based agriculture approach can not only exploit great big chunks of land useless for row crops, it can provide you a lot more energy dense food from those acres of land. the old time farms where they grew a mixture of crops plus livestock plus poultry all on one mixed farm has some pretty nice advantages in terms of healthy sustainable practices that limit erosion and build rather than deplete the soil. just because the idiot corporation run farms deplete the soil and do a lot of stupid things does not mean all topsoil everywhere is "disappearing". A lot of the places those big farms are located use a lot of irrigation to get much growth at all, and once they finish off depleting the fossil water aquifers they will become yesterdays news.
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Re: Peak SOIL

Unread postby Yonnipun » Sun 27 May 2018, 02:07:15

On four acres of poor quality land you can raise 320 healthy chickens in a relatively free range system where you have eight flocks of 40 that you rotate through the land instead of letting them pick and choose at random


Without additional food they are going to starve very soon. So you still need to grow potatoes and grains to feed those chickens. One chicken who lays eggs every day must eats about 200 grams a day. 300x200=60 kg of food a day. 365x60=21900kg of food pear year. You need 22 tons of food ( potatoes, grains etc) in a year to support a farm of 300 chickens.
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Re: Peak SOIL

Unread postby Newfie » Sun 27 May 2018, 08:02:33

The land used also needs to support a certain amount of forest because you need fuel for heat and lumber for building, water capture, a place to dispose of wastes safely.

It may be that the real number is 2 acres, if so that leaves with under 2 billion. Haahs number was not meant to be exact but to give an order of magnitude.

The point is more that we are currently well under 1 acre per person.
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Re: Peak SOIL

Unread postby onlooker » Sun 27 May 2018, 08:32:38

I think one key harbinger of a much more constrained future is the depletion of non renewable resources. FF, fresh water, phosphorus, certain minerals come to mind. And of course soil erosion - degradation and overgrazing is effectively reducing the amount of arable land
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Re: Peak SOIL

Unread postby asg70 » Sun 27 May 2018, 10:54:34

onlooker wrote:Yes but natural gas relies a great deal on oil for its mining, transport and usefulness !


Of which there is no short supply at present.
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Re: Peak SOIL

Unread postby Newfie » Sun 27 May 2018, 14:18:11

Let’s compare India and the USA.

Arable land - hectares
USA. 170
India. 160

Population
USA. 326
INDIA. 1,340

Hectares/person (acres)
USA 0.52. (1.29)
India. 0.12. (0.3)

People in India have 23%/person of that available in the USA. They would need to decrease their population by 77% to get where we are.

1,340 x .23 = 308 million.
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Re: Peak SOIL

Unread postby onlooker » Sun 27 May 2018, 14:36:08

Well, it comes down to many countries and people needing to import food from the relatively few food exporting countries. That is a pretty clear and direct sign of our overpopulation relative to a vital resource namely food
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Re: Peak SOIL

Unread postby Yonnipun » Sun 27 May 2018, 15:50:04

Duncan Cameron, Professor of Plant and Soil Biology at the University of Sheffield, said: “Soil is lost rapidly but replaced over millennia and this represents one of the greatest global threats for agriculture.

“Erosion rates from ploughed fields average 10-100 times greater than rates of soil formation and nearly 33 per cent of the world’s arable land has been lost to erosion or pollution in the last 40 years.

“This is catastrophic when you think that it takes about 500 years to form 2.5 cm of topsoil under normal agricultural conditions. A sustainable model for intensive agriculture could combine the lessons of history with the benefits of modern biotechnology.”


Basically it means that after one harvest you should wait 10-100 years before you can use the land again for the next harvest.
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Re: Peak SOIL

Unread postby dohboi » Sun 27 May 2018, 17:23:47

Erosion rates from ploughed fields average 10-100 times greater than rates of soil formation and nearly 33 per cent of the world’s arable land has been lost to erosion or pollution in the last 40 years.

“This is catastrophic when you think that it takes about 500 years to form 2.5 cm of topsoil under normal agricultural conditions. A sustainable model for intensive agriculture could combine the lessons of history with the benefits of modern biotechnology.”


"Basically it means that after one harvest you should wait 10-100 years before you can use the land again for the next harvest."

Or stop plowing!!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No-till_farming
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Re: Peak SOIL

Unread postby Newfie » Sun 27 May 2018, 20:56:33

I don’t think that is quite right. The way we farm now is pretty destructive. There are better ways that are far less damaging to the land, or even restorative. The short term production is less even if the much longer term production is sustainable and greater.

In essence we are mining the soil and using fertilizers and pesticides to eek out max short term production. Does no lt need to be that way.
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Re: Peak SOIL

Unread postby Yonnipun » Mon 28 May 2018, 00:14:29

No tilling or plowing, it does not matter, the amount of food we produce each and every year will end up in soil depletion eventually. Common sense tells me that taking tons and tons of harvest year after year is not sustainable no matter what tricks you invent. I agree with many who say that agriculture was the biggest mistake humans have ever made.
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Re: Peak SOIL

Unread postby Newfie » Mon 28 May 2018, 05:46:23

You can keep land in production but you have to let it rest, you have to put back. Tanada has talked about this elsewhere. Crop rotation, letting it go fallow, etc.

I agree that the way we are forcing the land is destructive.

We COULD do better. But not and feed all we have.
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Re: Peak SOIL

Unread postby asg70 » Mon 28 May 2018, 08:37:15

Yonnipun wrote:agriculture was the biggest mistake humans have ever made.


There's a special on the rise of civilization on PBS right now and the chapter they did on agriculture and its relationship to the start of city life addressed this issue. You can consider this special as more of a balanced counterpoint to Ishmael's hitpiece.

Rather than just waving your hand and calling it a "mistake" it's important to understand the advantages. The big advantage posited by the PBS special was working together and knowledge-sharing. This is also why some of the earliest group endeavors of civilizations were seemingly frivolous things like megalith monuments. I think there was an initial high over being able to achieve feats that were once impossible, even if they had no practical value other than bragging rights. The power of humanity to do things grows as we gather together like that. You can argue that it grows in a bad way, long-term, but to those who accepted the tradeoffs early on, it seemed more attractive than the quality of life afforded by hunter gathering.
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Re: Peak SOIL

Unread postby onlooker » Mon 28 May 2018, 10:15:07

Newfie wrote:You can keep land in production but you have to let it rest, you have to put back. Tanada has talked about this elsewhere. Crop rotation, letting it go fallow, etc.

I agree that the way we are forcing the land is destructive.

We COULD do better. But not and feed all we have.

Yes, but what must be recognized, is that at this time maximum crop production is no longer about profits and such, but a necessity to feed everyone in the world. So while all the ideas posited here are good, I wonder if any could or would be utilized at this time considering that in the short term they would decrease the current total world food supply. Or am I missing something?
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Re: Peak SOIL

Unread postby farmlad » Mon 28 May 2018, 10:43:11

Yes you can raise 320 egg layer hens on 4 acres if your not figuring feed brought in from other acres,but by that measure the CAFOs got you beat by a long shot they could put a good million on those four acres.

Even as a member of the American Pastured Poultry Association I have never heard of anyone making this claim till Tanada came along. :-D

Currently we are feeding 8 billion even with more than half not being eaten by humans(thankfully many more microbes get to eat it) and most of this food is produced by whats called sustenance farming and women being the majority of those farmers. And with a little common sense approach coupled with science available the amount of food that can be produced is not an issue. The reasons that we have so many people with severe malnutrition and well over half of us with milder forms of malnutrition has to do with humans being humans. Greed gets in the way and many suffer from malnutrition and famine today and from even worse in the future thanks to the soil degradation happening on most land surfaces at a terrible rate.

To produce nutritious food in a regenerative way we need integration of animals and crops in rotations to complement each other. We need something green growing for as much of the time as possible. Minimize tillage and chemical pesticides. Almost all arable soils have enough P and K to grow hundreds of years worth of crops. These and many other minerals are not in the soluble form so they do not show up in many soil tests but they are there none the less and by allowing the microbes a chance they make those minerals available to the plants. The science on this is old already but not taught much by our Ag universities due to funding coming from the chemical companies.
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