Friday, November 05, 2010

Palm Still King of Oilseeds; Food vs. Biofuel Still Stupid Argument

Robert Rapier takes a good look at palm seed oil in Malaysia. Robert reports that palm yields about 5 tons of oil per hectare, although it requires about 4 kg of fertiliser per tree. Oil Palm is planted as a monoculture, often on converted rainforest. Brazil is often mentioned as having a rich tropical oilseed potential due to the vast rainforests there.

The issue of food vs. biofuels naturally came up in comments, with some commenters categorically declaring that it is "wrong" to use a food crop for fuel. The stupidity of that point of view is almost beyond belief, unless you consider how modern universities have become political indoctrination centers, rather than places to hone one's adult thinking skills on real world issues.

The choice of whether a farmer will sell his food crop to a food distributor / processing company, or will sell his crop to a biofuels maker, is an economic decision best left to the farmer. In fact the farmer had to plan well ahead to determine all the factors going into how much of what crop he would plant on which parcel of land. He made those decisions based upon his belief that a market for biofuels would be available when his crop is harvested.

Farmers could easily have done something -- anything -- different with that parcel of land. He could have grown fodder for livestock, or let the land grow a simple cover crop to regenerate its nutrients. He could have grazed livestock on the land, or developed it for construction.

Every decision down the line is an economic choice, based upon the farmer's needs and economic choices. Knowing that the market for biofuels exists, farmers are likely to plant more crop -- as long as the market price can support it. That is exactly what has happened in the US corn crop. More maize is being grown than would otherwise be the case, so as to supply the human food market, the animal food market, and the biofuels market -- trying to get the best available price in all three.

Every resource could conceivably be converted to food, some way or another. For example, you could tear down your house, fill in your swimming pool, tear up your tennis court, and otherwise convert your private property into food-growing area. For some reason, though, we rarely hear about the "homes vs. food" controversy.

If the world were really hard up for food, we could use dead human bodies as fertiliser for food crops, rather than wasting all that nutrient in cremation or burial. Does anyone talk about the "food vs. burial" controversy?

As far as fuels go, fossil fuels could easily be converted into fertilisers -- even into edible foods using edible yeasts and such. Do you hear a lot about the "petroleum vs. foods" controversy?

Some resources are more efficient at creating food than others. And certainly only a relative few individuals are truly good at producing abundant crops. It would be easy to produce far more food than humans could possibly consume, with most of it going to waste. But that would be a poor economic use of resources.

Smart farmers do not plan to waste resources, unless the government or other mafia-type protection group forces them to do so via incentives. If market conditions tell them that there is a relative shortage of fuel and a relative excess of food, they may well focus on producing crops for fuel that year. Having choices such as that is a good thing for farmers, and likely to help them stay in business longer than would otherwise be the case.

It seems that most of the people who dwell on "food vs. fuels" are also people who call themselves environmentalists or who belong to the dieoff.orgy cult. In reality, these dieoff.orgiasts don't want humans to have any energy at all -- food or fuels -- until 90% of humans die off. So we actually know their viewpoint before they even communicate.

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Blogger Michael A. Gregory said...

You missed the most obvious 'food versus clothing' since cotton is grown on land that competes with corn and soybeans for acres.

Not sure if you have seen this but the National Science Foundation studied the effects of population growth on greenhouse gas emissions. They are at least starting to be more up front about there goals.

3:42 PM  
Blogger al fin said...

Thanks. Good one.

I also failed to mention the fact that twice as much arable land as is cultivated lies fallow in the US, for lack of economic use.

In addition, growing livestock for food is very inefficient. All of that land and all those crops going to feed the livestock could be devoted to growing food for people.

Also, all south-facing buildings in the northern hemisphere and all north-facing buildings in the southern hemisphere should be devoted to food growing, using retrofitted greenhouse modules if need be.

All roofs should be green roofs, with food crop gardens on rooftops mandated . . .

And on and on . . .

Not even looking at aquaculture in the oceans . . .

Everyone worried about this problem should take a course in basic economics, or better yet, read "Economics in One Lesson".

7:04 AM  

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