Thoughts on Biofuels Production

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An article in today’s Economist,   “A special report on feeding the world: No easy fix” (http://www.economist.com/node/18200678 ) focuses on a problem that receives relatively little attention today, but which requires a great deal of consideration.  In order to feed the world’s people, food production must increase by about 1.5% each year. While this sounds like a fairly achievable goal, it is in fact a challenging one.  Many forecasts are for significantly diminished agricultural production.   While water is frequently a limiting factor,  and reserves of certain fertilizers are also finite, the article points that more is involved than simply adding more nutrients and water to the existing agriculture industry.  There are a couple of reasons for this, including loss of tillable soil and uncertainty regarding weather patterns.  The outlook for producing enough food to feed the world’s growing population is sobering.

Add to this a possible significant increase in agricultural output to provide energy in the form of biofuels, and the challenge is too important to ignore.  It is dangerous to assume that agricultural production will continue indefinitely at current levels, much less at higher levels.  We can learn a lesson from countries such as India, where agriculture must be intensive to feed a huge population.  In many instances, highly successful agriculture with sustained heavy production has been followed by a collapse of the soil structure and decimation of  yields.  With the loss of organic infrastructure, microbes cannot carry out their essential task of fixing nitrogen from the air into a form usable for incorporation into plant tissue.  The water holding capacity of the soil is also reduced, increasing water requirements as well as agricultural runoff.

Is it wise to continue down the path of biofuels development without a strenuous examination of the ability of the soil to support our endeavors?