Financial Costs of Fossil Fuels on Agriculture from a Global and U, Ks Perspective

Agriculture is one of the industries that have been greatly impacted by the trends in the prices and usage of fossil fuels. This is because in most countries agriculture encompasses high specialization, extensive farms which are heavily reliant on large inputs of pesticides oil based synthetic fertilizers, fossil fuels and chemicals. In the U.S. for instance, a fifth of the 10,551 quadrillion joules of fossil fuel energy used in total food production goes to agriculture (Soil Conservation Council of Canada, 2001 p. 17). In U.K., agriculture which is overly dependent on fossil fuel based energy and other inputs derived from fossil fuels contributes about 2 of the GDP and about 60 of the food consumed. However, recent trends with respect to fossil fuel energy such as the increase in prices oil past few decades have had a adverse effects on agricultural production in terms of cots and economic competitiveness in general. As a result, this has led to heavy losses on jobs and profits and an economic damage on the economies of many countries particularly those based on an agricultural economy. Increases in fossil fuel prices makes the situation worse given that agricultural production in most countries is heavily industrialized and dependent on fossil fuel based inputs. In the U.K, the agricultural sector is heavily mechanized and highly dependent on industrial chemical inputs.

Most of the negative financial implications of fossil fuels on agriculture are enhanced by a narrow and short-term focus on productivity and profits rather than sustainability. Costs implicated by intensive fossil fuels dependent agriculture are in most cases indirect. Modern industrial agricultural practices encompass the use of fossil fuels in running of the various machineries such as combine harvesters, production and transportation of fertilizers and pesticides and in the preservation and transport of food across the world. Extensive use of fossil fuels for these activities in the face of the increasing agricultural production across the world has led to enormous emissions of green house gases such as nitrous oxides, and carbon dioxide which are the major causes of global warming and ozone pollution. The implications of this environmental depletion in turn lead to high financial costs in agriculture due to changes in seasons, droughts, floods and destruction of the ecosystems. Agricultural production has since time immemorial been dependent on seasons and the natural ecology thus changes in these seasons and the natural ecosystem due to burning of fossil fuels in industrial agricultural production impacts negatively on agricultural productivity. This exacts high costs and losses on agriculture as extra inputs are required. Moreover, these irregular seasons demand that new strategies be implemented in agriculture as the current one ceases to be effective and hence high financial cost are becoming prevalent in agriculture.

Most of the fertilizers and chemical inputs that industrial agriculture depends on are produced in factories whereby fossil fuel based energy sources such as coal, oil and gasses are used. Forty percent of fossil energy used in agriculture goes to production of artificial pesticides and fertilizers. The Environmental Protection Agency indicates that as of 1992, U.S alone used about 1.1 billion pounds of active ingredients in terms of pesticides. Still in U.S fertilizer usage was about 23.7 million tons in 1981 though the figure reduced to 20.7 million tons in the year 1992. Grain production has tripled in the latter half of the past century-in year 2004 it reached 2,029 million tons up from 631 in 1950. Burning of these fossil fuels is known to produce carbon dioxide whose concentration in the atmosphere has been increasing over time. In year 1994, for instance, burning of fossil fuels in U.K is estimated have emitted about 36.6 of the total green house gasses emissions. Further, its noted that in the last ten years, the per annum growth rate of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen to 1.9ppm from 1.4ppm in the 1960s.  As a result, global warming has become prevalent in the world. The impacts of global warming have been felt in the agricultural sector more than in any other filed due to the need for costly inputs necessary to address the effects caused by global warming such irrigation systems due to problems such as droughts. For instance, crop diseases such as blight have been on the rise due to changing climatic conditions (19 USDOE, 2001p.11). Impacts such as the expansion of arid lands because of climate changes necessitate expensive investments in products such as fertilizers that improve these lands. Generally, fossil fuels have been continuously increasing the financial costs in agricultural production due the ever increasing fossil fuel based inputs into agricultural productivity yet the negative impacts of the same fossil fuels continue to reduce productivity making it impossible to cover the high financial cost of production (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2010 p. 11).

In modern agriculture, one of the greatest fears is about acid rain. This issue is even critical given the fact that increased industrial agriculture practices aimed at meeting the ever increasing need for food production. Fossil fuels also emit nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide which are major elements causing acid rains (RSAS 1975 p. 13). Smog is also formed by the reaction of hydrocarbons from the activity of burning fossil fuels either in agricultural products transportation or in production machinery. Both smog and acid rain have detrimental effects on the agricultural productivity as they cause various complexities in crops such as diseases and retarded growth. This impacts high cost in agricultural production as productivity is low than the profits reaped form the sector. Acid rain also causes an imbalance in the natural conditions of the soil which is paramount for agricultural productivity. Apart from requiring inputs such as soil re-conditioners which are expensive, these soils contribute to changes in the natural ecosystems which become a financial burden in agriculture.

Studies conducted by the U.S Department of Energy indicate that the usage of fossil is expected to increase in this century yet the resource itself is an un-renewable one and it is running out so rapidly (Soil Conservation Council of Canada, 200137). With the agricultural sector being overly dependent on fossil fuels, it becomes very difficult and expensive to develop alternative systems that depend on other types of energy sources and which are renewable such as bio-fuels. Over dependence on fossil fuels in agricultural production has been very costly. Since a large percentage of modern agricultural production is based on oil, the issue of sustainability has impacted heavy costs on the agriculture over time. Fossil fuels are being used at a rate million times more than how they are formed. Decrease in these reserves has caused panic since oil prices have increased. Both population and the need for food production continue to increase while oil production is bound to drop.  This scenario is hence impacting high cost in modern industrial agricultural production in terms of chemical inputs such as expensive fertilizers, and other services that sustain the agricultural production as very minimal efficient alternatives exist.

Areas Where Fossil Fuels Are Used Most
There are various fields in which fossil fuel energy is applied in agriculture. The urge to produce surplus food to feed populations for a long period has relatively resulted into increased use of oil based machinery and equipments in preservation practices such as drying, smoking, storage and other methods. For instance, to dry one liter of moister from grains, an average of about 3,600 kcal of energy is required while making a 455g steel can demands about 1,006 kcal of energy. Currently agricultural produce is transported farther than ever. In the industrial nations of the west, agricultural food is transported for a distance of up to 2,500 to 4000 kilometers to the store from farms. Trucking and refrigerated transportation are by far more energy intensive. The amounts of agricultural produce transported rose by 16 while the covered distance increased by about 50 between 1999 and 1978.Farm machinery such as combine harvesters also consume large amounts of energy derived from fossil fuels since biofuels are bit expensive to produce. According to Leach (1976, p. 104), 21 of energy which is basically fossil fuel based is used in agricultural production while 14 goes to transportation. Statistics indicate that by 2004, U.K. was consuming about 74.13 of fossil fuel much of which was being used in industrial production of production of potatoes, cereals, oilseed, cereals, tobacco and production of farm inputs. Statics provided by Michigan universitys sustainable agriculture centre indicate that fossil fuel amounting to 7 calories is used to produce each calories in finished foods.            


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