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Future of Farming

Vector: George Dvorsky

Snagged and mashed verbage:
On Friday March 28th Anders Sandberg debated the future of farming on BBC Radio 4 with Robin Maynard, of the Soil Association and Professor Les Firbank from the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research.

Will the future of farming be glass skyscrapers full of plants and chickens, hi-tech genetically modified crops, or a return to traditional methods and wisdom? Charlotte Smith examines some of the suggested ways we might feed the world in years to come.

Link: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/radio4/farming/farming_20080329-0635.mp3

I forwarded George's email to former C-Realm guest Eric Boyd who had the following to say on the topic of vertical farming:
Thanks, I gave it a listen. I personally think that "Vertical Farming"
is a ridiculous idea, mostly because of the power requirements. I mean,
you've got to provide artificial light for the plants on most of the
floors, and that's going to be *extremely* intensive use of electricity.

You basically need to provide 1kW/m^2, which amounts to ~4MW per
acre. If you've got an size farm, you're talking about entire power
plants. Not to mention the capital cost of building skyscrapers. It's
beyond silly. But certainly there is a role for farming in the city -
just look at the Cuba model.

I do think the discussion on GMOs was correct - Europe is becoming an
island of expensive food, and it's going to hold them back if they can't
bring themselves to accept it.

My take:

The discussion of mushroom picking robots relates directly to my conversation with Colin Tudge in episode 77: AI (Agricultural Intelligence), and the discussion of vertical farming resonates with a discussion thread in the C-Realm Forum that turned acrimonious and pointlessly adversarial. This is the same thread for which I solicited some outside opinions and received some whoppers from Dmitry Orlov and Albert Bates.

I'm repeating myself here, but playing the role I've adopted for myself involves a lot of repetition. I agree with Colin Tudge in that I'm open to technological enhancements that will enable independent farmers to produce more and better food with less drudgery to feed their local communities. I am in no way interested in mega-scale, tech-centric agribusiness schemes intended to maintain the behemoth of highly centralized and largely de-peopled, corporate industrial farming. I want to see a widespread and rapid shift to a more localized and human scale system of food production. Or using Thomas Homer-Dixon's vocabulary, I want to see a reversal in the trend of trading the resiliency of decentralized agriculture for the seeming efficiency gained by scaling up, centralizing, and removing humans from the practice of food cultivation.

Finally, as many thoughtful people have pointed out, the problems that face us call out not for monolithic universal prescriptions but for a panoply of adaptive responses, i.e. an ecology of solutions (now there's a good title for an episode of the podcast).


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Mar. 31st, 2008 12:32 am (UTC)
I want to see a widespread and rapid shift to a more localized and human scale system of food production.

This sentence jumped out at me, because it mirrors my attitude to music-making. I suddenly saw parallels with the work you are doing and my own work in the musical realm, and realised that perhaps that's why I feel such resonance with the C-Realm. I could say that my mission statement is "I want to see a widespread and rapid shift (return) to a more localised and human scale of music creation."

I especially like that phrase "human scale".

Thanks KMO.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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