Impacts of Traditional Farming on Oil

The current system for growing and supplying food to people in every country is largely dependent on fuel and transportation. This may prove inconvenient as there is no logical doubt that fossil fuels will become less affordable as this, clearly finite, resource depletes. If our current methods continue agriculture around the globe will become less profitable and reliable. Sustainability in farming and such self-sufficiency necessities will require a transition away from fuel.[1]

The price of food and oil is correlated. Whenever oil is more expensive, so is food. The prices have risen and fallen together across decades because traditional agriculture relies on fuel to power farm machinery, bring items to the farm that are necessary for running it, and to eventually take the product from the farm to the consumer. Fuel makes up about 50-60% of the total cost of shipping operations. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, 2007-2008 (when oil prices skyrocketed), the cost of transporting food aid rose nearly 30% per ton.[2] Additionally, herbicides and other chemicals sometimes contain oil. As the price of fuel rises, the pressure falls on every aspect of agriculture.[3]

Oil prices directly affect farmers, who must struggle to afford the equipment, fuel, and supplies needed to run their business. Smaller farms are at an obvious disadvantage when competing with larger food growers who have more resources. Agricultural policies in countries that export food that subsidizes domestic farmers and invest surpluses in developing countries make this problem worse and add to the economic difficulties small farmers face.[4]

As more local or small-time farms face the challenge of rising fuel costs, they may not be able to adapt fast enough to growing price of fuel if most of their equipment depends on oil or gas to run. When farms close, it can carry economic effects that ripple outwards to nearby communities. Laborers who work on these farms could face unemployment and families may relocate to find work.

As long as oil and fossil fuels continue as the primary source of energy powering farm machinery and transportation, the cost of food and oil will remain intertwined. Oil costs not only exacerbate the problems that small farms struggle with, but it can always worsen food and wealth inequality. For example in the US, minorities, single-parent households, and children face food insecurity more than any other group.[5]

Increases in food insecurity may occur as oil prices rise. A more sustainable food system would help alleviate this problem. Reducing oil in food production, investing in renewable energy and more efficient methods of producing food, changing the way people eat, and reducing transportation distances are all ways to help build a more sustainable process of supplying the demand for food.[6]

Moving away from dependence on oil may prove difficult at first as many farmers have investments in machinery and equipment that run on fuel. For many, the upfront cost of switching to innovative farming may be financially unfeasible. One course of action the government could take is offering subsidies for small farms to transition over some time. The support would help lead the way to a smoother transition to innovative farming while supporting farmers who implemented these