> -----Original Message-----
> From: email@example.com
> [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]On Behalf Of Charlie Stross
> We're seeing at least one example, today, of an entire industry being
> driven to the brink by improvements in its own efficiency and competition
> on price. Agriculture!
What we're seeing with agriculture, far as I've been able to determine, is
not based on anything close to a free market economy. The problem with
agriculture (as opposed to horticulture) is that it's NOT efficient. In its
early days it flourished through the use of variants of slave labor. While
members of elite groups fared well, most people were apparently worse off
living within agricultural societies than their ancestors had been living as
More recently agriculture has maintained an appearance of efficiency through
the use of machinery mostly run on fossil fuel. It's true that yields per
person directly involved in farm labor have increased; but yields of food
calories per calorie of energy expended have dropped. A few months ago there
was a thread on this list analyzing the cost of producing energy from corn.
Even this analysis failed (if I read it correctly) to take into account the
energy used in producing the farm equipment (mining iron ore, producing and
shipping steel, producing and shipping machine tools, and so forth).
Governments have recently heavily subsidized the agricultural industry and
can, of course, continue to do so. But yields in many parts of the US have
been decreasing recently (I don't have reliable info on the rest of the
world) as "fossil" aquifers are depleted, topsoil is eroded, and fields
collect too much sodium from irrigation water. And the cost of producing
fossil fuel will likely rise.
Agriculture is an example of using brute force technology rather than smart
technology. It might be fine as a primer or jump start for civilization, but
it should have been only that.
> (Note that price supports in France serve a radically different purpose
> from the UK -- France has this tradition of rural living, the ideal of
> the peasant farmer as a way of life to aspire to, and the cottage in
> the country with its own kitchen garden -- which puts different social
> pressures on the system.
At least one usually gets a higher quality food through this sort of
subsidization, but it still comes at the expense of any real improvement in
The ultimate answer may turn out to be nanotechnology. I think the closest
approximations we have to nanotechnology that's available at this moment are
horticultural systems such as permaculture where there's an attempt made to
understand how systems of plants and animals work most efficiently in terms
of energy consumed and produced (as opposed to only considering the number
of human hours directly devoted to farming). When you think about it,
producing energy via the work of millions of mitochondria IS food production
at a molecular level.
> obesity levels are rising
I think this is probably due more to changes in lifestyle rather than amount
of food consumed. I saw an article recently on the increasing reliance on
the car in Australia that said Australians are on the average getting fatter
these days as they spend more time in cars rather than on foot or bicycle.
>it can't bring in enough
> money to operate effectively.
I've asked for permission to forward a post from a farming list I'm on. It's
from a woman who runs a small dairy in Pennsylvania. She comments that with
10 cows she and her husband are clearing a higher net profit than 1000+ cow
dairies where the owners are in debt up to their eyeballs for all the
expensive equipment, chemicals, and so forth.
As in so many areas of life, people seem to have a compulsion to make things
harder than they have to be.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon May 28 2001 - 09:56:48 MDT