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May 2007: Notes

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We include these notes from a variety of sources as an indication of current world challenges. GROW BIOINTENSIVE addresses some of these challenges by growing high yields of food with much less use of water, land and other limited resources.

•  An excellent article by David Pimentel, “Organic Food in the ‘Age of Healing,’” appeared in the March-May 2006 Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener. These are just a few of the statements made in this long article;

  • Of the Earth’s 6.5 billion people, 3.7 billion are malnourished, according to the World Health Organization, and we’re adding ¼ million people daily.
  • An acre of corn during the three-month growing season utilizes 500,000 gallons of water.
  • Worldwide, 6 billion pounds of pesticides are applied per year, yet insects, diseases and weeds destroy more than 40% of all food production. In 1945 losses of field corn, without the use of insecticides, were 3.5%, because corn was grown in rotations; in 2004, with a 1,000-fold increase in insecticide use in corn production, losses were 12%—because less than half was grown in rotations.
  • Indonesia reduced pesticide use in rice 65% and increased yields 12%. Sweden reduced pesticide use 68% with no reduction in crop yields or cosmetic standards.
  • In organic food trials of corn and soybeans conducted by the Rodale Institute over 22 years, soil organic matter increased to 5.3%, 820,000 liters of water per hectare were conserved because of the extra organic matter, and during drought years the organic treatments produced 30% more corn and 47% more soy per acre than conventional treatments.
  • It takes 1,700 gallons of water to produce one gallon of ethanol. It also requires 30% more energy oil equivalents to produce a gallon of ethanol. “We’re trying to get plants to be oil wells, and they’re not going to be.” (Pimentel has been studying ethanol for 20 years.)
  • We in the US could definitely reduce our energy consumption by 50%. Europeans currently use half the amount of energy we do, with a good lifestyle.

Articles about the problems of counting on biofuels to meet our energy needs are springing up all over. Here are excerpts from a few:
•  From “A Lethal Solution” by George Monbiot, published March 27, 2007, in the Guardian:
            “Since the beginning of last year, the price of maize has doubled. The price of wheat has also reached a 10-year high, while global stockpiles of both grains have reached 25-year lows. Already there have been food riots in Mexico and reports that the poor are feeling the strain all over the world.
            “Already we know that biofuel is worse for the planet than petroleum. The UN has just published a report suggesting that 98% of the natural rainforest in Indonesia will be degraded or gone by 2022” because of “the planting of palm oil to turn into biodiesel for the European market. … As the forests are burned, both the trees and the peat they sit on are turned into carbon dioxide. … Sugarcane producers are moving into rare scrubland habitats (the cerrado) in Brazil, and soya farmers are ripping up the Amazon rainforests. Since President Bush has just signed a biofuel agreement with President Lula, it’s likely to become a lot worse.”

•  From “Peak Soil: Why cellulosic ethanol biofuels are unsustainable and a threat to America” by Alice Friedemann, which was posted on the Internet in early April 2007:
            “With every step required to transform a fuel into energy, there is less and less energy yield. For example, to make ethanol from corn grain, which is how all US ethanol is made now, corn is first grown to develop hybrid seeds, which next season are planted, harvested, delivered, stored, and preprocessed to remove dirt. Dry-mill ethanol is milled, liquefied, heated, saccharified, fermented, evaporated, centrifuged, distilled, scrubbed, dried, stored, and transported to customers.
            “Fuels from biomass are not sustainable, are ecologically destructive, have a net energy loss, and there isn’t enough biomass in America to make significant amounts of energy because essential inputs like water, land, fossil fuels, and phosphate ores are limited.” The author goes on to discuss soil erosion, which “removes the most fertile parts of the soil.” Then she lists the harmful effects of growing corn for biofuel:

  • Row crops such as corn and soy cause 50 times more soil erosion than sod crops because the soil between the rows can wash or blow away.
  • Corn uses more water, insecticide and fertilizer than most crops. Due to high corn prices, continuous corn cropping is increasing.
  • Farmers want to plant corn on highly erodible, water-protecting, or wildlife- sustaining Conservation Reserve Program land.
  • Crop residues are essential for soil nutrition, water retention, and soil carbon. Making cellulosic ethanol from corn residues—the parts of the plant we don’t eat—removes water, carbon and nutrients. These practices lead to lower crop production and, ultimately, deserts.

This is just a small part of this long, extremely comprehensive and interesting article. To access the rest: Culture Change

•  Another look at crops being planted on Conservation Reserve Program land comes from “Market Lures Farmers from Conservation” by Tim Reiterman in the April 1, 2007, issue of the Los Angeles Times:
            “The Conservation Reserve Program is about to shrink by millions of acres as part of the Bush administration’s plans for stimulating corn production for ethanol to reduce dependence on foreign oil. Federal agricultural officials recently suspended enrollment in the program for at least a year.
            “The enrollment suspension comes as many California landowners feel increasing pressure to leave the conservation program and convert their property to more lucrative crops or home building. The $2 billion-per-year federal program pays owners not to cultivate land that is prone to erosion, marginal for farming or significant for wildlife habitat. Since its inception in 1985, the voluntary program has protected two million acres of wetlands, planted 1.7 million acres of grass and trees along streams and other waterways, reduced soil erosion by 450 million tons per year and increased the duck population by millions through improved habitat.

Another article, in the March 22, 2007, issue of the The Christian Science Monitor mentions that in the Midwest, young farmers are being priced out of land. Land has increased radically in value because of the increased value of corn for biofuels.




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