Tuesday, January 19, 2010

When the oil runs out?

I'll tell you what...when I received the latest issue of Small Farm Canada magazine I found an article that really got me thinking. It was written by Rhona McAdam and the article is called Apres Oil . I had never really thought of "oil running out". I mean when I hear myself say those words it still seems kinda silly even considering how much the topic has been discussed in recent years. That couldn't really happen in our lifetime right? But the article didn't go on to discuss the world physically running out of oil...it discussed what would happen in the very realistic scenario that the price of diesel fuel increases by three fold in the matter of a few months. What would happen if during any given future summer, the cost of diesel went up so much that it was impossible to harvest the seeded and growing crops. Could that actually happen? Would the government step in to allow farmers the ability to purchase even more heavily subsidized fuel? What if the price of fuel never came down as it did in 2009? This scenario struck me as not only possible, but highly probable within a few short years. I am not an economist but I sure saw fuel prices spike in 2007/08 and I can see how it may happen again sometime soon.

Our farm is small and we are continuing to set ourselves up to be able to sell our produce at closer to retail prices. It is a lot of work to process and market the produce to be able to achieve this pricing, but we are doing it. That means that our farm can stay relatively small and still achieve a liveable income. Because our farm is small, could we actually go back to farming with horses or oxen? Is it practical?

Well I would have to say yes when I see so many other folks doing it! Neil Dimmock here in Alberta is a prime example of someone who is more than capable of surviving without oil.

I would be well advised to try to stay in touch with Neil and learn all I can about farming with horses. Cindy and I are no stranger to horses having been around them and involved in raising them for many years in the past. I don't think that either one of us is necessarily looking forward to owning horses again, but if there was an actual purpose behind owning them as opposed to them just being really expensive grass mowers, I could see it happening sometime in the near future. Of course, first things first. We have to get ourselves moved and our new farm built and operating. I hope that can happen before the oil runs out!?!?

Above is KYGuyz using a hay gathering implement to load the wagon. Below, Neil Dimmock seeds his fields with the Percherons.


  1. There is a farm in Australia that is using an electric SUV to pull a grain drill while using no-kill cropping techniques.


    I am primarily interested in the pasture cropping and no-kill cropping ideas, but it is kind of interesting to think about using a electric truck charged by a solar panel to drill a winter wheat crop into a perennial pasture.

  2. I remember reading in a book about the history of tractors that earlier this century when the tractors were in R & D, the math worked out to tractors costing about 2/3rds the cost of horse/oxen power (including human labour involved). Thus the change in the way food was grown.

    As fuel prices rise, a point may be reached where horse and human power become more economical, of course the timing of this depending somewhat on the farm workers wage! An alternate scenario as mentioned in the previous comment is new technologies that may in the future prove to be more economical than both horse/oxen and fossil fuel power i.e. electric motors and renewable energy systems.

    Time will tell! Good to be ready for various possibilities. That's how humans and animals have survived through history, flexibility to change. Civilizations that ignored upcoming challenges and inevitable change have not fared well in the past.

  3. Well it is difficult to know what reports contain all of the accurate and pertinent data. The one thing that comes to mind when factoring other technology vs. draught animals is the work involved in order to pay the money to obtain and maintain the technology. For instance, how much work do you have to do to purchase the electric tractor or suv and maintain its' components and repairs? On the other hand, a horse will produce offspring to replace itself after your initial purchase of suitable brood stock. It is a one time purchase that is renewable. There is work involved with the maintainence and care of the horse too though of course.

  4. I'm sure someone has studied this. Would be an interesting comparison. I guess an average cost/hour for each scenario could be roughly calculated for comparison purposes, similar to cost/km for cars.

    Speaking of which, I recently estimated my car cost per km over the past 5 years by adding the costs of depreciation + repairs & maintenance + insurance + fuel. It came out to about $0.25 to $0.30/km. Relatively cheap because the car was purchased with high mileage (already depreciated significantly) and I do some of my own maintenance and repairs.

    I guess to be fair I should factor in the cost of my time to maintain and care for the car plus partial cost of my garage to store it, electricity to plug it in when cold (diesel), property taxes paid for part of the garage, income tax for portion of wage gone to pay for car, property taxes paid for road infrastructure, etc. Looks like I need to revise my numbers!

  5. Well it's hard to consider ALL factors involved. But you're right, you should factor in all of the items that you haven't already. I've thought of another factor! What about the cost of your time to go to work to be able to afford all of the fuel, maintenance, garage, property taxes, etc. Back to the drawing board! LOL