Agriculture is Not a Zero-Sum Game

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The following is an excerpt from Robert Zubrin's Energy Victory:

At bottom, the entire food-versus-fuel argument boils down to a Malthusian conceit — that there is only so much that can be grown, so if we grow more of one thing we must necessarily grow less of something else. But this is simply false. Agriculture is not a zero-sum game.

There are roughly 2,250 million acres of land in the continental United States. About 1,600 million of those acres are arable. Roughly half of that land (800 million acres) is farmland, but only about a third of that (280 million acres) is actually being cultivated. Only about 85 million of those farm acres are presently growing corn, and just a fifth of that land — about 17 million acres — is growing corn that becomes ethanol.

In short, there is plenty of farmland in the United States that could be used to grow more corn — or more of the other staple crops needed to meet domestic or international demand. Even more important, agricultural technology is constantly advancing. US corn yields per acre have risen 17 percent since 2002, and the state of Iowa alone today produces more corn than the entire nation did in the 1940s.

Applied globally, such improved techniques can multiply world agricultural yields many times. In fact, they have risen by a factor of six since 1930 — which is why, even though the world's population has tripled since that time, there is a lot more food for everyone today.

Read more:

Will Food Prices Go Up When There is a Big Market For Alcohol Fuels?

The Food Industry's Propaganda Campaign Against Ethanol

BBC: Will Biofuel Leave the Poor Hungry?

Ethanol Policy and Meat Prices: Unspinning the Truth

Ethanol and World Hunger

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