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Energy descent and New Zealand agriculture. Solis Norton November 24, 2011. For correspondence: [email protected] Introduction. Exponential human growth is unsustainable - Bartlett Same lecture, 1600 times since 1969 – no effect Western world (ag) continues to intensify

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Energy descent and New Zealand agriculture

Solis Norton

November 24, 2011

For correspondence: [email protected]


  • Exponential human growth is unsustainable - Bartlett

  • Same lecture, 1600 times since 1969 – no effect

  • Western world (ag) continues to intensify

  • ‘Peak everything’ is upon us

  • IPCC and PCE reports call for redesign of agriculture toward resilience and genuine sustainability

  • Energy descent = de-intensification of agriculture

  • What does this mean?

Challenges to nz ag
Challenges to NZ ag

  • Peak Oil -

  • Climate change

  • Environmental constraints

  • Water constraints

  • Market instability reflects increasing to maintain BAU

  • Agriculture faces unprecedented challenge

Drivers of energy use in ag1
Drivers of energy use in ag

  • Fuel

  • Fertiliser

  • Impact of oil price on these drivers

  • Impact of less of these drivers (like urea)

  • Globally, wider utilisation at lower rates is real opportunity

  • Depends on equitable distribution…

  • Greater equity = faster transition for us

Transition toward organics
Transition toward organics

Declining energy is synonymous with a transition toward organic production systems

Characteristics of organic systems

  • Less energy intensive fertiliser

  • Lower stocking rate

  • Overall lower input per ha

  • Lower output per ha ~25%

  • Greater resilience to shocks?

Efficient vs intensive
Efficient vs intensive

Organic production systems are less intensive

  • Lower inputs/ha

  • Lower outputs/ha

    Organic systems are not more efficient

  • Ability to convert input energy to output energy is same as conventional

  • No scope to improve this on the scale required to match descent.

A plan and timeline

Food production will decline

  • Do we grow foods that are in demand?

  • Prioritise foods with a high EROI… cheap nutrition?

  • Is this a risk or an opportunity? On what scale?

  • Need a plan for this transition processes

  • It will take time and energy to devise this plan

  • How long? – 5 years? 10 years?

Building resilience
Building resilience

  • Change ag currency from money to energy

  • Avoid ‘lost decades’ following turbulence

  • This will take us further into descent

  • The longer we wait the harder it will be to effect the necessary changes

Leadership group
Leadership group

  • New Zealand has agriculture and the All Blacks

  • Set a precedent for other countries to follow

  • Need a starting point and a new language…

  • Initiate with small pan-industry leadership group

  • Minimal governmental input, 300k/yr

  • Create a plan and estimate a timeline

  • Communicate

Group composition
Group composition

  • Chairman

  • Energy specialist(s)

  • Industry reps (dairy, sheep/beef, etc)

  • Economist

  • Doer

  • Maximum number of 8 people

  • Linked to key NZ agriculture bodies

Existing pathways
Existing pathways

  • FarmsOnLine – contact all the farmers!

  • FarmIQ – demand driven integrated value chain for red meat

  • Fonterra

  • Meat and Wool NZ

  • DINZ

  • MAF

  • Farmer groups…


Driven by profit or sustainability?

The coming challenges are unavoidable

No framework or even language exists to meet them

The time for extensive research to assess plans grows short

A small dedicated group is one alternative to investigate options and communicate issues

Cheap to run and well connected, it could offer real benefit

Action while action is still easy.