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Author Topic: Are western farming methods inefficient?  (Read 11447 times)

Offline Peter Meakin

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Are western farming methods inefficient?
« on: 10/03/2011 09:30:03 »
Peter Meakin  asked the Naked Scientists:
   
Dear Chris,
 
I have tried to put this question to you via Redi at 567 Cape Talk but I don't think you have received it. However the assertion is so brazen that, if true it will change the planet!! Or something.  Here it is:
 
"If we convert the energy gained from harvested plants into kilowatt hours and compare it with the energy expended for that harvest, the result is startling: for fifty harvested energy units the American farmer invests 250 fuel energy units, the Chinese farmer only a single of human energy.
 
This means simply that the primitive countryman of the east works at an efficiency rate of 5000 per cent and the USA farmer equipped with the most advanced technical aids, at an efficiency rate of only 20 per cent" Felix Paturi NATURE, MOTHER OF INVENTION Themes and Hudson, 1976

Peter Meakin

What do you think?
« Last Edit: 10/03/2011 09:30:03 by _system »


 

Offline CliffordK

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Are western farming methods inefficient?
« Reply #1 on: 14/03/2011 12:42:38 »
Looking at Fuel Ethanol production, it is pretty close to 1:1 fuel in, energy out, although part of the extra cost is in fermentation and distillation of the end product.

Certainly different plants would have different energy profiles.

Efficiency of the system as a whole is complex.

The Chinese farmer and his family may consume half of what he grows.  And, the actual yield per acre may be less than the corresponding "Western" yield.

A global food distribution network can distribute a wide variety of foods everywhere, without respect to seasons.  Local food distribution networks certainly are much more seasonal, but require much less transportation cost.
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Are western farming methods inefficient?
« Reply #2 on: 14/03/2011 20:35:36 »
Why does the Chinese farmer work so hard?
He could slack off and only work half as hard yet remain able to feed his family and still make a large surplus.
That sort of thing makes me suspicious.

Also, there's another factor. A relatively small fraction of the American population are farmers but (I think) a rather large fraction of the Chinese population are (or would have been in 1976).
The small number of American farmers produce enough food for the population, but it seems to take a rather larger number of these "more efficient" Chinese farmers.
That seems odd to me.
« Last Edit: 14/03/2011 20:38:20 by Bored chemist »
 

Offline CliffordK

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Are western farming methods inefficient?
« Reply #3 on: 15/03/2011 01:52:43 »
Ummmm
Hoeing a field by hand or using oxen is not easy.
Likewise, work in the rice patties must be hard work.
And pedalling a rickshaw full of produce to market?

Automation, while maybe not fuel efficient, has allowed the "mega-farming" practices.

If you are considering fuel/energy...  Don't forget to consider the food consumed by the Chinese farmer, his family, and his beasts of burden. 
 

Offline Meakin

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Are western farming methods inefficient?
« Reply #4 on: 16/03/2011 02:36:44 »
Ummmm
Hoeing a field by hand or using oxen is not easy.
Likewise, work in the rice patties must be hard work.
And pedalling a rickshaw full of produce to market?

ANSWER TO CliffordK, Sir, does not the proposition illustrate that a man might need only 250sqm of arable land to grow all the nutrients that are needed for a family of five for a year and he is so efficient that he needs spend only three weeks in a year labouring: the sun does most of the work. When you see pictures of a small-holder digging, sowing, fertilising, watering, weeding and harvesting those are rare moments.   

Automation, while maybe not fuel efficient, has allowed the "mega-farming" practices.if mega -farming practices are desireable

If you are considering fuel/energy...  Don't forget to consider the food consumed by the Chinese farmer, his family, and his beasts of burden.see above 
 

Offline Meakin

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Are western farming methods inefficient?
« Reply #5 on: 16/03/2011 02:49:54 »
Why does the Chinese farmer work so hard? Bored chemist please see my reply to Clifford K
He could slack off and only work half as hard yet remain able to feed his family and still make a large surplus.
That sort of thing makes me suspicious. Are you suspicious that the earth might be more fecund than you thought?

Also, there's another factor. A relatively small fraction of the American population are farmers but (I think) a rather large fraction of the Chinese population are (or would have been in 1976).
The small number of American farmers produce enough food for the population, but require capital equipment and petrols but it seems to take a rather larger number of these "more efficient" Chinese farmers.
That seems odd to me.why odd? the bigger the tractor the higherthe output-but at what price?
 

Offline Meakin

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Are western farming methods inefficient?
« Reply #6 on: 16/03/2011 02:56:23 »
Looking at Fuel Ethanol production, it is pretty close to 1:1 fuel in, energy out, although part of the extra cost is in fermentation and distillation of the end product.

A global food distribution network can distribute a wide variety of foods everywhere, without respect to seasons.  Local food distribution networks certainly are much more seasonal, but require much less transportation cost. But what about the energy that is needed to produce the tractor and ploughs divide by their economic life? 
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Are western farming methods inefficient?
« Reply #7 on: 16/03/2011 07:17:10 »
"Sir, does not the proposition illustrate that a man might need only 250sqm of arable land to grow all the nutrients that are needed for a family of five for a year "
No, it says nothing about that at all.
There was no mention of any area of land.
"Bored chemist please see my reply to Clifford K"
I did, it's wrong (as above) and it fails to address pest control (other than weeding) which is always a major part of farming.
" you suspicious that the earth might be more fecund than you thought? "
No I suspect the original post is deeply flawed.

"Why odd? the bigger the tractor the higherthe output-but at what price?"

Because the question was about efficiency, without defining how that would be calculated.
The American farmer provides more crops than the Chinese one.
At one level that's proof that he is more efficient.

"But what about the energy that is needed to produce the tractor and ploughs divide by their economic life?  "
Very few US, or Chinese farmers are in the business of growing crops for fuel, so this is not relevant to the original post.

 

Offline CliffordK

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Are western farming methods inefficient?
« Reply #8 on: 18/03/2011 05:58:03 »
250 sq meters
16x16 = 256 m2

That is small!!!!

Although, I must admit that it would make a good garden plot. 

If one lives in the tropics, then one can garden year-around.

For the rest of us, we have 4 or 5 months of growing, of which food is really only produced for a portion of the time, and must stock up for and entire year.

Forget the livestock.  Your one dairy cow would eat the whole garden, and then some.

Should I ask what is your proposed disposal of human waste?   [xx(]
 

Offline Meakin

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Are western farming methods inefficient?
« Reply #9 on: 19/03/2011 03:42:44 »
"Sir, does not the proposition illustrate that a man might need only 250sqm of arable land to grow all the nutrients that are needed for a family of five for a year "
No, it says nothing about that at all.
There was no mention of any area of land. It was implied because if the earth was not so fecund one would need a larger area
"Bored chemist please see my reply to Clifford K"
I did, it's wrong (as above) and it fails to address pest control (other than weeding) which is always a major part of farming. Eat the bug(ger)s
" you suspicious that the earth might be more fecund than you thought? "
No I suspect the original post is deeply flawed. Without explaining why in the language of physics.

"Why odd? the bigger the tractor the higher the output-but at what price?"

Because the question was about efficiency, without defining how that would be calculated. Not so it is in KWH
The American farmer provides more crops than the Chinese one.
At one level that's proof that he is more efficient. No he has more capital equipment which is inefficient. Prove Mr Paturi wrong please

"But what about the energy that is needed to produce the tractor and ploughs divide by their economic life?  "
Very few US, or Chinese farmers are in the business of growing crops for fuel, so this is not relevant to the original post.


 

Offline Meakin

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Are western farming methods inefficient?
« Reply #10 on: 19/03/2011 03:45:18 »
250 sq meters
16x16 = 256 m2



Should I ask what is your proposed disposal of human waste?   turn it into compost! [xx(]
 

Offline CliffordK

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Are western farming methods inefficient?
« Reply #11 on: 27/03/2011 08:05:52 »
You know, thinking about this.
American Farmers often go with the assumption that if it can't be mass produced, it is not worth doing.

Fly across America, and you will see circular fields laid out on a square grid.  Why?  Because center pivot irrigation is very efficient in terms of labor, but somewhat inefficient in terms of land.

Many crops are bred to be harvested all at once with mechanical pickers, potentially loosing a long growing season worth of harvesting.  Again, it saves a lot in labor, but is potentially less efficient as far as overall yield.
 

Offline Jolly- Joliver

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Are western farming methods inefficient?
« Reply #12 on: 28/03/2011 03:36:18 »
You know, thinking about this.
American Farmers often go with the assumption that if it can't be mass produced, it is not worth doing.

Fly across America, and you will see circular fields laid out on a square grid.  Why?  Because center pivot irrigation is very efficient in terms of labor, but somewhat inefficient in terms of land.

Many crops are bred to be harvested all at once with mechanical pickers, potentially loosing a long growing season worth of harvesting.  Again, it saves a lot in labor, but is potentially less efficient as far as overall yield.

I dont see labour is an issue, that's jobs for people.

Land use is an ineffiency.

Part one of three an american Farmer looking at better farming,
 

Offline Jolly- Joliver

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Are western farming methods inefficient?
« Reply #13 on: 28/03/2011 03:41:30 »
Peter Meakin  asked the Naked Scientists:
   
Dear Chris,
 
I have tried to put this question to you via Redi at 567 Cape Talk but I don't think you have received it. However the assertion is so brazen that, if true it will change the planet!! Or something.  Here it is:
 
"If we convert the energy gained from harvested plants into kilowatt hours and compare it with the energy expended for that harvest, the result is startling: for fifty harvested energy units the American farmer invests 250 fuel energy units, the Chinese farmer only a single of human energy.
 
This means simply that the primitive countryman of the east works at an efficiency rate of 5000 per cent and the USA farmer equipped with the most advanced technical aids, at an efficiency rate of only 20 per cent" Felix Paturi NATURE, MOTHER OF INVENTION Themes and Hudson, 1976

Peter Meakin

What do you think?

It's all man power, so hardly any fuel energy is used, that's the difference.
 

Offline Farcanal

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Are western farming methods inefficient?
« Reply #14 on: 19/04/2011 01:31:06 »
Remember that Yank farmers are heavily subsidised as well which distorts their output. Here in NZ our farmers are not and have to be efficient or go under.
 

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Are western farming methods inefficient?
« Reply #14 on: 19/04/2011 01:31:06 »

 

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