Fertility and Peak Food

May 21, 2008 · Filed Under Threats to Food Supply · Comment 

When the world tries to grow more food and biofuels, the problem of raising the availability of inputs becomes clearer.

Last year I bought nitrogen fertiliser in July for £145/tonne with payment the following January. Yesterday I was told that I would be allowed just 70% of last years tonnage at £330/tonne with payment in 28 days.

The price of phosphate and potash fertiliser has gone up even more with autumn prices likely to be around £500/tonne. The price of tractor diesel has gone from 34p/litre a year ago to 64p today.

The point is that farming has, over the past 70 years become a method of converting cheap, finite fossil fuels and other resources in to food. As the world population continues to rise and more people in the east are able to afford a “better” diet with more meat, the earth will not be able to provide enough of these inputs.

These finite inputs have TEMPORARILY raised the carrying capacity of the earth to a level far above the level possible when they are no longer so easily available. In addition the availability of irrigation water and cropland per person on earth is going down.

Until about 70 years ago in the west and much more recently elsewhere, the energy inputs into farming were from the sun through the food for horses and workers. Fertility was maintained through crop rotation, the use of legume crops such as peas, beans and clover to provide nitrogen and the return of other nutrients to the soil through animal and human manure.

The price of fertiliser will most likely go down in the next year or two as the price encourages more production, but the present supply problems give us an insight of the more severe problems to come.

3 Responses

  1. Patrick Says: