And the Horse You Rode In On

A fascinating academic article has been circulating recently, comparing the energy it takes to run a conventional farm with that required on an organic one. If you’re interested in the ‘real’ costs that go into your food, then the cost and benefits of energy use should certainly be high up there. And this study delivers. What makes it particularly good is the resolution of the information – over 1.25 million data points over six years, from the Land Institute’s Sunshine Farm. What they find is that organic farming is more energy efficient than conventional farming, when all variables are taken into account.

The only area where the Sunshine Farm stumbled was in the use of horses against the use of tractors. Apparently, tractors are more energy efficient than horses – and this raises some tough questions for proponents of sustainable agriculture like me.

First, even if it’s energy inefficient, can animal traction be more efficient when its other uses (source of fertilizer, lower rates of soil compaction, etc) are taken into account? That’s a difficult question to answer, not least because when you introduce these other factors, you need some way of making them comparable, which opens the door to all kinds of statistical sleights of hand.

Also, this study looks at the difference between organic and industrial operations. What it doesn’t look at is the distinction between monoculture organic and agroecological organic. This matters because in the latter, the farm labour necessary to keep farms working tends to live much closer to the farm, which lowers the energy demands generated by commuting.

On top of this all, and perhaps the most awkward question is this: is it possible to scale agroecological practices to a larger size of farm? It’s a question I’m going to be investigating in the future, but it’s one that’s divisive. In the agroecology community, there are those for whom a ‘family-size’ farm is an article of faith. But it’s worth asking, I think, how communities built beyond the family size can make agroecology work for them, and it’s something that you’ll be hearing more and more about from me in the future.

Meantime, though, do check the study out here.

8 Replies to “And the Horse You Rode In On”

  1. I was trying to model this kind of stuff, before discovering it was too hard, so now I’m sticking to pure location theory for a little while! But an unexpected source made me think about it in a different way: Read Montague’s ‘your brain is almost perfect: how we make decisions.’ Some choice quotes from my Zotero notes, I’m sure you’ll see the parallels.

    “All computations are not created equal. Some cost more to run, and some provide better long-term payoffs to the organism. For biological computations, efficient solutions have won the competition. How do we know? Because your brain is merely warm – you can safely touch your head – while the processor in your personal computer is so wastefully hot that it heats your office and you can’t touch it with a bare finger. Why is the brain so efficient? The why is obvious; life is hard and competition fierce, so biological computers could never afford to be grossly inefficient like our personal computers. But the question is, how do biological computers achieve such efficiency?” [19]

    Answer: “nature has equipped biological computations with a measure of their value.” [20]

    Slowness, clunkiness, noisiness – “these features are indeed liabilities to fast and accurate computation in a machine with excess internal communication channels where cost is not an issue.” [cf. energy-rich food production…]

    Wasteful, hot machine may be better at some things: F15 faster than a bird, but bird can “manouvre through trees, land on branches and make copies of itself.” [25]

    “Without costs, the question of optimal design attacks itself and becomes ‘optimal for what?’ ” [28]

  2. Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.

    – Winston Churchill

  3. “Dead poet society
    John Keating: No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”

    Yes, Jerome, I fully resonate with that. All we need is a little mentoring to inspire our marvelous creativity.


    FOOD. What could be more important? HOW to raise it in the best and most efficient way with the most nutritional and sustainable methodology.

    A new way of using energy has already been known for some time but suppressed by Big Oil, Coal, Gas and Nuclear World “monopoly” <=to be polite. :O)

    There is an answer and it has already been proven.

    The Powers-That-Be ALREADY have this operating for the sake of their own agenda of World Hegemony but it is kept in secret "Black Projects." We could have had it sixty years ago. Now, the time has come.

    On the link I gave above, pay special attention to Stanley Myer's work because it will be the technology that will start this New Energy Paradigm off. WATER can be used as a FUEL and present gasoline motors can be retrofitted. Of course, there are disinformation agents all over the web trying to debunk this, however, to put it bluntly, they are wrong.

    Now, there are several companies already putting devices out that one can put on their car. This is not Stanley Meyer's technology which is much much more efficient in splitting water into hydroxy gas because it uses Tesla's methods of tapping the Universal Energy Field to thoroughly split the water into hydrogen and oxygen.

    However, there are already existing companies which have already proven that much less fossil fuel can be used in present gasoline motors simply by injecting hydroxy gas from water–and it makes the engine MORE POWERFUL. Some of these companies, of course, are VERY profit oriented and their equipment is far too expensive. They think it is proprietary knowledge but it isn't. (Water4Gas is one example)

    Heck, various home inventors all over the world have proven this technology in their garages–of course, due to the World Energy Cartel no main-stream funding is available because Gas, Oil, Coal, Nuclear is a means of societal control. But folks have not let that stop them from proving that the technology is real and WORKS.


  4. “” Ne pouvant produire sans épuiser, détruire et polluer, le modèle dominant contient en fait les germes de sa propre destruction et nécessité d’urgence des alternatives fondées sur la dynamique du Vivant “.”
    – Pierre Rabhi

    “” Not being able to produce without exhausting, destroy and pollute, the dominant model in fact contains the seeds of its own destruction and it’s an emergency to create alternatives based on the dynamics of the Living. ”
    – Pierre Rabhi

  5. Raj,

    New energy for an entirely New Paradigm. It is now starting to happen everywhere to the extent that the World Energy Cartel can no longer suppress it. The harder they try to stamp out the tiny bugs, the more there are.

    The hundredth monkey has now washed his sweet potato. <= yet another example (there are many others) of how local agriculture can and will be SUPER stimulated.

    These types of magnetic free-energy motors have been around for many decades and the principle on how they work is well known. A vast body of work has already been done on this and given FREE world-wide because it is outside and beyond the present status quo.

    Nikola Tesla had it going back in his day, but J.P. Morgan and G. Westinghouse said, "NO NEVER, BECAUSE WE CAN'T PUT A METER ON IT!"


    The Orion Project, which I shared in my last comment,
    ( )
    intends to GIFT this energy to the poor third world countries who desire to work the land upon which they live instead of being starving slave in a tyrannical sweat-shop for the benefit of the world's worst criminals.

    I think these huge mega-criminal energy cartels will go under simply because they are going to be BYPASSED by the strong will and intention of the people, once they discover that this technology is NOT a miracle and is NOT impossible and has already been proven. This, even though false advertising and much pseudo-scientific debunking, from well-paid stooges flashing their Curriculum Vitae's, has long used their "authority image" to discredit it.

    The fact is, many real cutting-edge scientists fully know this perfectly well and they range over many fields such as bio-physics, quantum physics, ecology, electro-gravitic propulsion systems etc.

    I do my best, in my very small way, to inform folks about these hitherto hidden resources, because they will never be informed from a petrified media which is in the pockets of lumbering dinosaurs disguised as "experts." Actually they are well-paid "yes" men. However, those belching Behemouths are now quickly going extinct because their selfish philosophy and every action they take is completely unsustainable.

    $$$ simply cannot stop human sharing and creativity, which is now blatantly springing up all over the planet from the out-of-the-box thinking of us tiny bugs.

    The very best things in the human heart are certainly not for sale.



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