Global Food Shortfall

I see the press is warming up to the reality of rising food prices around the globe. I myself glanced at the price of wheat for the first time in months this morning and was shocked to see price quotes in the teens for a bushel. forty bushels per acre now translates into a gross of $400 per acre for productive farmland. A couple of hundred acres under cultivation translates into a check for $80,000 at the farm gate. That is way over twice what anyone has experienced over the years.

The fact is that reserves are low and now also vulnerable. Of course the heavy snow this winter should presage a bumper crop and you may be sure every available acre will be able to come under cultivation with all that moisture in the fields. Globally, it still looks tight and we need stocks to be rebuilt. Several good years of high prices will hugely recapitalize the farm industry and sharply increase production, so I am really not concerned.

What I want to see is the rapid implementation of terra preta soil culture throughout the world as fast as possible and not just because it sequesters carbon. I have shown two methods of producing high volume bio char in either an earthen kiln in the subsistence economy or a shipping container system in the developed economy. This soil culture was field tested for hundreds of years in the Amazon and then lost when Eurasian disease arrived after Columbus. This is an incredibly important fact that seems lost on most commentators.

On soils that will not hold their fertility and thus today carry only a very small population with terra preta supported crops year after year with huge populations of many millions. The sub text of the terra preta carbon sequestration story is the real delivery of a crop soil building technology that is certainly applicable on every other soil that we use and many soils that we currently do not use.

Just going to the tropical hillsides in the Indonesian Archipelago and introducing this method successfully will employ many millions of people. Those verdant hills are currently cropped once every fifteen years using slash and burn. It appears to be trivial to adapt the earthen kiln to that society and agricultural culture.

The land is there almost for the taking and the population can deliver the key ingredient of labour. The earthen kiln protocol is a reconstruction of ancient amazon methods using corn or maize and effectively little more than bare hands and a basket or two. It is time to establish a proper tropical soils homestead act in all these countries to let the people build their new world.

The magic of bio char is derived exclusively from the particular nature of carbon itself. Recall that all non pure carbon components will be consumed by the soil biota. Recall that free nutrients will migrate into the water table if they are not intercepted somehow. Pure carbon, or perhaps better named unbound carbon, forming crystals, will grab these nutrients and hold them until a root or other biological agent removes them. This carbon will also remain in the working layer of the soil. That is why it converts impossible tropical soils into totally usable cropland such as is still used in the Amazon.

I personally have no doubt that this soil revolution is more than sufficient to support many additional billions of mouths. Imagine your most productive soils suddenly becoming available in areas the size of France in a dozen locales. Before terra preta, my imagination hit the wall at around ten billion because of the inhospitable nature of tropical soils. Now the incredible fecundity of the tropics combined with a working tropical soil suggests that global populations of even thirty billion could be possible.

It would be ironic if some day in the not too distant future it became necessary to burn more fossil oil in order to produce enough global CO2 to support the burgeoning populations and their associated high carbon agriculture.

Of course we will not go there, but we will be hugely richer in agricultural resources with the flexibility to crop a region and then abandon it back to the wild as often as we feel is wise. Imagine abandoning most of the headwater regions of the Hudson River for three hundred years. A complete recovery would ensue and planned reentry could then be based on a maximizing model that preserved as well as used.

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