Now, as diesel prices skyrocket, some farmers who have rejected many of the past century's advances in agriculture have found a renewed logic in draft power. Partisans argue that animals can be cheaper to board and feed than any tractor. They also run on the ultimate renewable resource: grass.
"Ox don't need spare parts, and they don't run on fossil fuels," Mr. Ciotola said.
Animals are literally lighter on the land than machines.
"A tractor would have left ruts a foot deep in this road," Mr. Ciotola noted.
In contrast, oxen or horses aerate the soil with their hooves as they go, preserving its fertile microbial layers. And as an added benefit, animals leave behind free fertilizer [Tess Taylor, "On Small Farms, Hoof Power Returns," New York Times via Center for Rural Affairs, 2011.05.03].
Most farmers probably aren't ready to leap into the post-oil world made by hand and hoof. But as fuel prices head north (and as Big Oil ships more fuel south), maybe we can stretch our energy and land resources by putting our old friends Ox and Mule back to work.
But now to ruin Charlie and Allan's breakfast: this Marketplace report says organic farming can't feed the world:
Mark Rosegrant is with the International Food Policy Research Institute, an organization focused on sustainable ways to end hunger. He says going all organic would require a whole lot more land. Organic farming is, Rosegrant says, a niche market. It's not bad, per se, but...
Rosegrant: It's not an important part of the overall process to feed 9 billion people.
The Economist recently had a special issue on global food supplies. One piece ended with the thought that the reaction against commercial farming -- with it's dependence on chemicals -- is "a luxury of the rich" [Adriene Hill, "The Non-Organic Future," Marketplace, 2011.05.04].
Readers, your links and arguments are welcome!