Industrial agriculture relies on large quantities of fossil fuels and electricity. The increase in energy prices in the 1980s prompted substantial investigation into the response of farmers to new energy conditions, and into the prospects for future food production in the face of scarcer and more expensive energy inputs. Previous attempts to model these relationships were hampered by a lack of consistent and reliable historical data on total energy use in USA agriculture. This analysis develops and applies a new methodology to calculate the direct and indirect use of fossil fuels and electricity on USA farms from 1910 to 1990. The data on energy use is used to construct indices of energy productivity over the same period. The results show a substantial overall increase in energy use from 1910 through the 1970s, and a shift from gasoline to diesel fuel and electricity. The use of all fuels declined in the 1980s. The measures of energy productivity show a substantial decline in through the 1970s, a trend consistent with the substitution of fossil fuels for animate power and with the low price of fossil fuels relative to other inputs. Energy productivity rose in the 1980s due to a diminution in the rate of energy use, a reduction in the number of harvested hectares, and larger farms. The results show a clear response of farmers to higher energy prices that resulted in technical and managerial changes that improved energy productivity.
Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment – Elsevier
Published: Sep 1, 1995
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