Farming Without Fossil Fuels Is A Matter of Going Hungry

Farming Without Fossil Fuels Is A Matter of Going Hungry

Kevin Killough
Energy Reporter – Cowboy State Daily



[Editor’s Note: Farming, energy production, free speech and capitalism are the foundations of civil society as we know it and yet some would throw it all away in hunger games.]

When it comes to carbon dioxide emissions, no industry’s output is beyond the scrutiny of climate activists, including agriculture.

In the past decade, campaigns against modern fertilizers, diesel fuel and cow burps are leading to regulations that are killing farms in Europe. Some proposed regulations in the U.S. are moving in the same direction.

The world has made incredible advances in producing food and reducing malnutrition rates, despite increases in population. As is the case with many industries, the benefits to mankind take a backseat to reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Brett Moline, director of public and governmental affairs for the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, told Cowboy State Daily that, regardless of intentions, bad policies can end up hurting everyone.

“The consumer would either go hungry or pay a heck of a lot more to have a reliable, safe food supply,” Moline said.


Farming in Wyoming

Doing More With Less

In the United States, the agriculture sector, as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) — a measure of the value of all goods produced — dropped from about 45% in 1839 to less than 1% in 2016. Effectively, much less of the U.S. economy is dedicated to producing food than nearly 200 years ago.

This is a remarkable achievement when viewed against world hunger rates. In developing countries, they have fallen from nearly 35% in 1970 to under 13% today.

This means that despite rapid increases in population, more people are better fed than ever before — and this is with less industrial production dedicated to producing food.

Emissions In Ag

Farming in developed countries today uses a lot of petroleum products.

Besides the diesel fuel that powers machinery, there also is the production of modern fertilizers, which requires ammonia. Fertilizers have, especially when combined with precision farming equipment that greatly increases the efficiency of chemical use, increased yields, allowing farms today to produce more food with less land.

Ammonia manufacturing contributes about 2% of the worldwide carbon dioxide emissions, according to The Royal Society, the United Kingdom’s academy of sciences.

In 2020, agriculture in the U.S. contributed about 11% of the country’s total, according to the EPA. Livestock accounts for about a quarter of all agriculture emissions, so less than 3% of the country’s total.

According to Climate Watch, in 2020, cropland, crop burning, rice cultivation, agricultural soils and livestock and manure were 16.2% of the global total greenhouse gas emissions.

Eat The Bugs

Agriculture has come under increasing scrutiny for its contribution to global warming. Movements to ban red meat are gaining in popularity.

There’s even a smaller subset of the overall movement that wants people to replace protein from meat with protein from insects. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization produced a report in 2013 detailing how more of the world diet could come from insects.

Regulations to reduce agriculture emissions are taking hold in many countries, and it’s at the expense of farming.

In Ireland, new emissions reductions targets will require ranchers to cull hundreds of thousands of cows. In a country with little other industry, 33% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture.

French farmers staged a massive protest against the country’s green agenda, with hundreds of tractors rolling across the country’s capital in Paris.

Last year, Dutch farmers in The Netherlands gained global attention for their protests.

Not Just Europe

While the U.S. hasn’t had the same level of restriction, climate activists’ war on farmers isn’t limited to Europe.

In May, more than 100 members of U.S. Congress sent a letter to Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensleer expressing concerns about a proposed SEC rule that will aid environmental, social and governance (ESG) ratings for investing.

Sometimes referred to as “woke capitalism,” ESG rates funds on various markers of progressive-friendly policies related to protecting the environment, diversity in the workplace and community relations. Any industry with greenhouse gas emissions gets rated down.

The proposed SEC regulations will require large companies to collect data on emissions from family-owned farms with which they do business.

“The time and energy put into complying with this new regulation will divert American farmers away from their primary goal of producing our nation’s food, fuel, and fiber,” the letter in May stated.

The ESG movement has had an enormous impact in the oil and gas sector, making it next to impossible for companies developing fossil fuels to find financing.

If the SEC’s enforcement of ESG standards becomes a reality, agricultural lending, which family farms depend on, could take a big hit.

Agriculture And Energy

Moline said that agriculture in America would look very different without petroleum.

“Without fossil fuels, agriculture, on the scale that we operate on in the United States, would be essentially impossible,” Moline said.

The developing world today still operates largely without the kinds of equipment and fertilizers American farmers use.

Jusper Machogu is a farmer in Kenya and an advocate for fossil fuel development in Africa.

He is a critic of developed countries trying to prevent Africa from developing and using fossil fuels. He makes short videos of all the manual labor that goes into growing and harvesting the crops where he lives to show people in the developed world what life without fossil fuels looks like.

Manual Labor

On small farms that are about 2.5 acres farmers in Kenya grow, among other things, finger millet. It’s a type of cereal grain similar to sorghum.

Machogu told Cowboy State Daily it takes six months from planting to harvest. About 40 to 50 people will work the 2.5 acres, and everything is done by hand.

They can’t afford many of the chemicals American farmers use such as herbicides and pesticides. Machogu said they do some spraying for aphids, a small insect, but like everything else, it’s done by hand. To apply pesticides, Machogu walks through a field with a container of pesticides on his back, spraying the crops with a wand.

Rather than spraying herbicides, they weed by hand. The job requires 40 to 50 people working from 8 in the morning to 5 in the evening, Machogu said. That’s a few dozen people crawling on their hands and knees to pull the weeds by hand.

“It’s tedious,” Machogu said.

They also don’t have machinery to build irrigation canals. Twenty years ago, Machogu said, they’d carry 10-gallon water jugs on their heads from streams and lakes up to 2 miles away.

Now, they have motorbikes, and Machogu said he pays $1 to have 50 gallons transported to his farm.

“It’s quite convenient,” Machogu said.

Huge Difference

In his home country, Machogu advocates for mechanization of farming in Kenya.

When he talks about upgrading to farm machinery, he speaks of buying 50-horsepower tractors. Farmers in the U.S. use these kinds of tractors for small jobs on the farm. An American combine used for harvesting has six times the horsepower. But for a Kenyan farmer, a 50-horsepower tractor would reduce manual labor enormously.

“That will make a huge difference. And once we have found machinery, of course, they require fossil fuel,” Machogu said.

When people are freed from the labor of producing food, they find new careers and the economy grows.

Absence Of Petroleum

Critics of climate activism point out that the movement is focused on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but without considering why we put greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere in the first place.

Climatologist Michaell Mann, famous for producing the disputed “hockey stick” graph showing recent rapid warming, dedicates a whole chapter to the impacts of global warming on agriculture in his book “The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet.”

Nowhere in the book does he discuss that farm machinery runs on diesel and modern fertilizers require natural gas. The impacts of global warming are explored without consideration of the impacts of the absence of fossil fuels.

Farmers in Kenya can tell you all about it.

Really Important

The impacts of climate change is a discussion farmers are having, but that’s in the context of the challenge of producing food profitably.

As much as farmers are getting a bad rap for their environmental impact, their work relies on the health of the soils and air.

“Climate change is really important. It’s something that we all care about, and should all be thinking about. And I think it’s something that every industry is consciously trying to improve,” said agriculture advocate Michelle Miller in an interview with Cowboy State Daily in January.

Original article, found here, republished, with permission of Cowboy State Daily, a wonderful journal of life in Wyoming, one of the free states. Sign up right here, gratis.

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