Conventional agriculture faces pressure to change from a host of factors, but these come with a number of incentives and potential benefits. The issue of energy security creates yet more pressure for farmers and growers to change and adapt the way we operate, but also offer some of the greatest incentives, as those who adapt can really benefit from the rewards on offer.
Energy security – nationally and on your farm
Global stocks of fossil fuels are declining, including the UK's. The UK is in danger of becoming dangerously dependent on unstable parts of the world for its energy supplies. Only a few years ago the world watched as countries in Eastern Europe were put under massive strain by their dependency on external oil and gas supplies, and the power this gave the supplier.
UK Natural gas consumption and production 2000 - 2009
In 2004 the UK switched from being a net exporter of natural gas for over 25 years, to a net importer (see graph above, more information from the UK Energy Statistics Report here). The imported gas comes largely from unstable parts of the world, and we are therefore in danger of becoming subject to supply problems and associated price rises.
The world's most used form of energy is oil – we put it in our cars everyday, use it as the basis of plastics and chemicals, and burn it to create heat and light. However global supplies of oil, many experts predict, have either peaked, or will do so shortly, with a decline in supplies to a fraction of current output after this.
The graph below shows different projections for world oil supplies, from a range of sources, including major oil companies, and shows output declining significantly this decade. Figures from the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicate that conventional oil supplies peaked in 2006 and continued growth in supplies will be required from unconventional, and therefore more expensive, supplies – read the report here and more from the IEA on energy security here.
Source: The Oil Drum
Much of the remaining supplies are thought to be hard to access, making them more expensive to extract, further adding to prices at the pump, which have risen hugely since 2008. This price rise reflects declining supplies, as well as the closely associated factor of booming global demand from emerging parts of the world such as China and India. Such increases in demand will use up the existing supplies even faster while pushing up prices around the world. At the same time, if prices do not rise, it will not be uneconomical enough to extract certain supplies.
A Post Carbon Institute report on these issues (available here) outlines these concerns in more detail.
The graph below illustrates the gap between production and predicted discoveries in the coming decades, showing how future discoveries are not predicted to keep pace with the levels of production required to meet demand.
Source: Association for the Study of Peak Oil
The one constant for any business, largely taken for granted, is the smooth supply of power for machinery, lights, heat and transport, therefore any interruption in supplies could disrupt the entire economy, but especially energy intensive industries such as farming. How would you respond if you could no longer run your machinery or light your buildings?
What you can do about it
Unlike many other businesses, farms have the opportunity to take action and generate financial and business benefits. Integrating renewables on a farm is not only one of the best diversification tools available, but also offers protection from energy prices and supply problems - read more in the energy generation section of the toolkit.
Read more about energy security and peak oil here
For a list of links to further websites please click here