So many farms!
Have you ever thought about how many farms there are? There’s so many!
Check out the meat of Europe:
Pretty much everything light green is farm, brown/grey is city, white is snow, and dark green is leftover forest. Imagine how much forest there would be without all the farms. So much oxygen!
Oh and blue is water.
Let’s zoom in, literally anywhere, to reveal the patchwork of land producing things to put in human mouths.
That’s nuts, isn’t it? All of that land, all over the world, to grow things for humans to eat, drink, smoke and wear.
In the US, it’s 945,080,000 acres, or 3,824,606,448,800m², which is 11,589m² per person. So every man woman and baby has their own little piece of land measuring 100m × 100m. That’s the same as a square shape where every side is the length of a 100m running track!
Let’s look at the US from above, because their farms are nuts. The right half of the country is pretty fertile, as you can see. Even from this high in space you can squint and see the faintest of grids in some places.
Zooming in, one may begin to realise the scale of the operation (Chicago for scale).
A sea of one-mile squares. Pumping out stuff to go onto trucks and into people’s mouths.
Some might think that at some point we’re going to run out of space to make food. This probably won’t be the case, for reasons:
- The amount of calories-per-bit-of-land that we can produce is growing
- Population growth is slowing
- Efficiency is nowhere near maximised in countries that aren’t rich
Just check out the border between these two countries, one rich, one poor:
They have the same horticultural potential, but it’s abundantly clear that the upper is more organised and I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume more efficient. Applying the technology that’s been developed and paid for by the upper country to the farms in the lower country would have a striking effect.
And below, on the border between South Africa and a country you’ve never heard of, poor old eSwatini haven’t even bothered:
It’s clear that a level-headed agreement between these two countries would result in an overall increase in crop production (fruit and sugar cane, in this case). The limiting factor isn’t technology, it’s politics. The solution is simple, but not easy.
The point is that we’re not going to run out of room to make food on a global scale. That concept doesn’t even make sense. The concern is running out of food on a local scale.
Back to Europe. Wouldn’t it be nice to have those forests back?
Surely growing things in dirt is not the future. Why the hell is the vertical farming revolution taking so long? That’s one of those questions that has an answer, I just don’t know it yet. So this is my new obsession — smarter farming.
Here’s how it’s going to go down:
- Rich countries will pour money in smarter farming R&D.
- Rich farming industry groups in rich countries will lobby against progress that threatens to disrupt the status quo. Things will take twice as long but happen none the less.
- Nice people in rich countries will work out ways to package this up for not-rich countries. Self-contained solar-powered shipping containers and the like.
- This will localise food production, minimising the impact of one of the big causes of famine: war. Maybe that one’s a stretch.
I wonder if this is one of those fields where there’s room for improvement. For example, are people trying to push the idea of farms-in-cities because that cuts down on transport, not thinking about the fact that this will meet a lot more political resistance than a solution that converts existing farms and everyone keeps their jobs?
Part of me wants to dedicate the rest of my life to this. Part of me struggles to grow mondo grass in my kitchen. And that’s a pretty hardy grass.
We will see.