Agricultural and energy markets are closely intertwined in a relationship that has grown stronger over time as agricultural productivity has increased trough mechanisation, fertilization and increased trade. Globally, the agrifood chain utilizes 30 percent of world available energy with 70 percent of that use coming after the farm gate.
“Globally, the agrifood chain utilizes 30 percent of world available energy.”
On the farm, fossil fuels contribute significantly to inputs both directly to power tractors and farm equipment and to dry grain, as well as indirectly in the form of non-organic fertilizers and electrical energy used to power irrigation systems and other equipment. After the farm gate, fossil fuels are used intensively for transport of agricultural commodities and food processing. Transportation of commodities is increasing with the growth of urbanisation and international trade.
The abundance, diversity and resiliency of the world’s food supply today depend critically on energy inputs all along the production chain, right to the consumer’s plate. As a result, it would be virtually impossible for the agricultural sector to completely eliminate fossil fuel use without drastic reductions in food availability and affordability, and/or drastic increases in areas cultivated, with its associated increases in greenhouse gas emissions.
However, rising energy costs and concerns about environmental impacts mean that increased energy efficiency of agricultural production could provide benefits to producers and consumers of both food and energy alike. Growth of agriculture’s capacity to provide energy services, particularly the use of crop residues and other co-products from food production could similarly benefit both groups. The benefits of using food crops directly in biofuel production are less clear and pose a potential threat to the most vulnerable food consumers.