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Visions of Future Food Production
   

A View of Post-Oil Agriculture in Ireland

What will agriculture look like in Ireland in the post-oil era? Many different scenarios are possible. Business as usual could continue until forced to change by diminishing availability of imported energy, artificial fertiliser or animal feedstocks, or perhaps by a more pressing need to feed the Irish population. Unfortunately, such a strategy would not lead to a good outcome: many of the changes needed will take decades to implement and will not easily be accomplished during crisis conditions.

Or alternatively agriculture could plan ahead and start to make changes now, or in the near future.

But some things can be predicted with a reasonable degree of confidence:

1 The climate in Ireland will change. The latest available climate data, combined with likely trends in greenhouse gas emissions, suggest that it will get warmer, both in summer and winter. It is likely that winters will become wetter everywhere, while summer may become drier in the south and east.

2 Many countries that currently supply Ireland will food or animal feed - particularly those of the semi-arid belt in the mid latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere - will experience falling levels of precipitation and reduced access to water for irrigation.

3 Globally, land degradation caused by unsustainable agricultural practices (for example excess irrigation leading to salination and also excess use of fertilisers) will increase

4 As major fields become depleted, oil and gas will become scarce, causing surges in price on global markets. Potentially, both oil and gas could become very expensive.

5 Gas resource depletion will impact upon the availability of nitrogen fertilisers

6 Depletion of global mineral phosphate and potash deposits will impact upon availability

7 The prices of energy, agricultural fertilisers, staple foods and of animal feedstocks will all rise

8 Even in the best case scenario global food production will struggle to keep pace with projected population increase

 

Other pertinent facts

1 Ireland currently imports approximately 60-65 percent of the food it eats.

2 Ireland produces three times more lamb than it can eat, six times more dairy produce and ten times more beef. Around seventy five percent of all agricultural land is used to serve export markets.

3 The contemporary Irish diet includes approx 88kg of meat per annum, ranking Ireland about twentieth in the world in terms of meat consumption.¹

4 The quantity of protein (from all sources: meat, dairy, grain and other foods) in the Irish diet is 110g per day, more than 40 percent higher than the world average (77g)²

¹ Average life expectancy in Ireland is 81 years. The quantity of meat consumed per head in Ireland is twice the quantity consumed in Japan where average life expectancy is four years higher than in Ireland. Irish meat intake is three to four times of that of many countries and twenty times the per capita meat consumption in India. High meat intake does not necessarily mean ncreasedlife expectancy: In Mongolia meat intake is similar to Ireland but average life expectancy (67 years) is comparable to India (66 years). Mostly, higher life expectancy reflects greater wealth and/or better healthcare and living conditions, not access to meat. Source of data: FAO

Studies of vegetarians who have access to a wholesome balanced diet have not demonstrated any detrimental effect either in health or life expectancy. If anything the opposite is true. One investigation carried out by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition of six different studies of diet and life expectancy found a 3.6 year increase in life expectancy among long term vegetarians. However, other lifestyle factors may have been involved, for example it may be the case that vegetarians are also more health conscious.

²Figures for some other countries as follows: Iceland 133g; Japan 92g; Cuba 80g; Slovakia 73g; Mongolia 72g; India 56g; Liberia 36g. The FAO recommends that the minimum average protein requirement is 44g per day. Source: FAO

 

Assumptions for Ireland 2060

1 Population is 6 million, with an age demographic similar to 2015, or slightly older

2 The land available for agricultural purposes is broadly similar to that in 2015

3 The climate, both in Ireland and in other food producing regions has changed in line with current global warming predictions

4 Energy imports have fallen to very low levels (owing to collapsing supply)

5 Food and animal food imports have ceased

6 Artificial fertiliser imports have ceased

7 Irish agriculture has to be self sufficient in energy. In other words, the energy/fuel required for food production and distribution must be provided by crops (for example grain or oilseed rape).

8 Irish agriculture also has to provide some or all the fuel required for other essential transport services

9 Average per capita protein intake is set at 77g per day (the current world average)

10 Average per capita food calorie intake is in line with current FAO recommendations

Objective

To reconfigure Irish agriculture to deliver a diverse, nutritious, wholesome and ecologically sustainable diet that will feed Ireland onwards into the next century

Scenarios

Taking into cinsideration the parameters listed above, we examine four scenarios:

S1 Average per capita meat consumption is 45kg per annum (roughly the current world average and also similar to contemporary Japan, Columbia, Serbia, Albania, and Armenia)

S2 Average per capita meat consumption is 30kg per annum (similar to contemporary Azerbaijan, Morocco, Moldova, Turkey and the Philippines)

S3 Average per capita meat consumption is 15kg per annum (roughly the same as Pakistan, Tajikistan and Indonesia, twice that of Nepal and four times that of India)

S4 No meat consumed. Given that large areas of land - mainly along the western seaboard - are unsuited to crops (including tree crops) but suitable for livestock rearing, this is not offered as a credible scenario but is included for comparative purposes only

Details of each of these scenarios will be added in the near future