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!!! reducing our petroleum footprint

 
paul wheaton
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So many people have gone to protest oil use.   There is a lot more to it, of course.  And it is good that somebody protests.  It is good to see a large crowd there. 

At the same time, my evil brain says that the time would be better spent demonstrating lifestyles that reduce a petroleum footprint followed by telling the world about that demonstration. 

Further, I think that if we got rid of the oil subsidies, this problem would end instantly.

Okay .... if oil consumption can be dropped by ten percent across the board, then this current effort will fall into the space of "not worth it" and they will drop it.  Of course, it would be great if we can reduce petroleum use by 70% with an eye to someday getting it below 10%.

A couple of weeks ago, I heard a story of somebody making the 1500 mile journey home from the protests .... in a jeep grand cherokee.  By themselves.  About 75 gallons of gas.   For this person, it seems that their actions say something different than their protests. 

Three people traveled from here to the event.  So about 12 gallons per person.   If you could get a whole bunch of people to go on a bus, it might go down to 5 gallons per person. 

If we are going to talk about petroleum, it looks like transportation is the key:



The average car burns about 500 gallons per year.   The average household is about 1000.   I am going to speculate that for each household, 1200 gallons are burned to transporting stuff that people consume.  Mostly food. 

The first thought people have is to buy an electric car and powering it, mostly, with solar panels.  Of course, there might be a thousand gallons put into building that car, or transporting thousands of little fiddly parts to the car manufacturing site.

And if you are going to go to a petroleum protest, maybe there could be a bus that gets you there without petroleum.


Let's start by saying that the average household has a petroleum footprint of 2200 gallons.  For the sake of clarity on what I am writing, I am going to further simplify all this by suggesting a scenario ...  

Rudy lives in a house by himself and has exactly one car.   Rudy uses 1000 gallons of gasoline each year.  500 gallons go directly into his car and the other 500 gallons are indirect - from the stuff he buys. 

Rudy commutes to work each day.  25 minutes each way.  The US average. 


Hypermiling:   a collection of techniques with your existing vehicle, that help folks get better mileage.   If Rudy does a little of this, he saves about 20 gallons per year.   If he is super passionate about it, he can save 100 gallons per year.  If he gets to the top 1% of all people trying this, he can save 180 gallons per year.

Taking exceptionally good care of your car:   Perfect tire pressure, well tuned, clean air filters, etc.  25 gallons per year.

Car with better mpg:    Switching from his thoroughly average car (25.5 mpg) to a prius C (50 mpg) saves 250 gallons per year.

Electric car:   500 gallons per year.  HALF!

Telecommuting twice a week140 gallons.

Telecommuting full time350 gallons.

Gardening:   A really great garden and growing half of his total food needs saves 150 gallons.  An utterly massive garden that meets 90% of his own food needs, and he manages to provide 10% of the food needs of ten other people.   550 gallons.

Living in a community:  (assuming Rudy still commutes and there is no garden) People just don't need as much stuff.  Even food can be purchased collectively.  150 gallons.

Telecommuting from a community, with a mega garden that feeds 20 people outside the community:  There are three cars shared by the community.  Rudy finds himself driving somewhere about once a month.  1000 gallons.


Geoff's thing about gardens comes to mind:



It might not be entirely true, but there is a lot of truth to it.


Summary:  rather than protesting, I wish to advocate for large scale gardening and telecommuting from a community.  Where the community is so awesome that a person might get into a car no more often than once a month just for a bit of alternative entertainment. 

Further, I think that spending 2 full days trying to connect brains to these ideas will do far more than spending 14 days on a road trip to do some protesting.  But ... that's just me and the way my old, evil brain works.  Surely my thinky-bits are not a fit for nearly all other people.


What other ideas are there for reducing one's petroleum footprint?


 
John Weiland
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RE: "Telecommuting from a community"

Would it be possible perhaps add an energy/petroleum cost/usage estimate for the telecommuting infrastructure? I agree with the sentiment, however....have always thought it a bit strange that many will fly hither and yon using enormous amounts of jet fuel for "environmental protection" conferences.

As for "What other ideas are there for reducing one's petroleum footprint?"

Answered with another question:  Starting from the living situation of those remaining indigenous groups that live completely off the grid and without petroleum support, what aspects of their lifestyle could one emulate?  One might start by honoring the light and dark that occur naturally.  A tough one clearly for those living near the poles, but there are indigenous groups that have succeeded at that as well.  Another one would be *finally* building all buildings to the extent possible to take advantage of passive solar and geothermal cooling.  As for transportation, if individual cars will remain as a part of the culture for the foreseeable future, then change the mindset towards fuel efficiency and away from "power" (I can't begin to add up  all the times I've heard someone say "That vehicle with that small of an engine will be "underpowered"!.....).  If oil goes away altogether, we can deal with the replacement at that time.  And along the same lines, cultivate a new notion of "cost", even if it can't or won't be actually placed on an item.  Thus, the "cost" of a bale of hay produced within your county at $4.00 per bale may seem steep compared to a $3.00 bale that you might order from Amazon.com that get's shipped from New Zealand.  Start thinking about the "real" cost of that $3.00 bale.  It won't work that way for many things, but it's getting the mindset to change that can be helpful in the transition.
 
Travis Johnson
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Honestly, I think trying to get the world to give up on its independence, and thus giving up their individual cars is futile, but that does not mean I do not agree with you in concept. I look at not giving up the car, but rather giving up the type of current car that is in production now, and what we drive on.

Observe drivers on the road and you will witness one thing; the vast majority of cars have one driver. Yes there are carpool options and whatnot, but it has hardly helped, especially in rural areas. Here is a simple idea, make a single person car, but when that same car needs to carry two people, it easily connects to another module to allow it to be a two person car. Need a four person car...or eight...you get the idea, modules snap together so that it is availed for only the number of passengers needed. The smaller the machine put together, the smaller the petroleum footprint it has. With computers today, we have the ability to do that with controllers. In the shipyard where I use to work their transporter worked this way..,a single section would only lift a few ton and move it about the shipyard, but it could be fitted with other modules that allowed it to lift over 6000 tons of half built ship on its back...all by being segmented together. That was not a misprint, I meant tons and not pounds. That is huge. Make a car that can be quickly and easily snapped together in modules, and it would reduce the overall consumption of fuel vastly. Big trucks could do this same thing, sizing them only for the weight they are hauling at the current moment.

Another aspect is simply changing what we drive on. I live in Maine, yet millions of dollars a year are spent on clearing our roads of snow every winter. WHY? Today we have conversion kits that can turn tires into tracks and are only bolt on accessories. Put skis on the front, half-tracks on the back and and save millions on labor costs, fuel for those snowplows, not to mention subjecting that precious pavement to frost that breaks it up...only to have to be repaved with oil every few years.

And asphalt...how stupid to drive on that? Oil pumped out of the ground half a world away just so we can drive on it. Wood is a natural resin and could easily bind woodchips into a rigid road material that is not only biodegradable, but is regenerative in nature, and would produce a lot more jobs.

Those are 3 quick ones right off the top of my head...
 
paul wheaton
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estimate for the telecommuting infrastructure?


I am trying really hard to focus on "petroleum footprint" and not wander into the territory of "energy footprint", "carbon footprint" or even "pollution footprint."


building all buildings to the extent possible to take advantage of passive solar and geothermal cooling.


Not really a petroleum thing.


As for transportation, if individual cars will remain as a part of the culture for the foreseeable future, then change the mindset towards fuel efficiency and away from "power" (I can't begin to add up  all the times I've heard someone say "That vehicle with that small of an engine will be "underpowered"!.....). 


I think there are some people willing to make sacrifices for the greater good.  And I like that those folks have options.

At the same time, I think people are desperately unaware of paths that are MORE luxuriant and they happen to solve world problems.  These are the things that I would like to draw attention to.

At this time, having the ability to jump in a car at any time and go anywhere is not just a luxury, but pretty much an american standard.   So, as I try to think of solutions, I very much wish to embrace this standard and come up with ways that a person might have a more luxuriant life and, at the same time, they just happen to put fewer miles on cars. 

So I imagine a person living in a permaculture paradise community - where life is so good that people are not all that interested in going anywhere.





 
paul wheaton
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Travis Johnson wrote:Observe drivers on the road and you will witness one thing; the vast majority of cars have one driver.


Yes, brilliant ....


the auto-pilot car-train idea

I have this idea that someday, cars will not only have the auto-pilot stuff, but they will be able to form huge trains of cars.  Each car might have some sort of connector in the front and back so they can join a train going down the highway.   Together they have less wind resistance.   And now, maybe they triple their mileage. 

So a car that had a 600 mile range, now has an 1800 mile range. 

Rather than buying a plane ticket to go from missoula to santa fe, you could get in your car at 5 in the afternoon and start.  And arrive at 10am the next morning.  Having slept most of the way. 



the five times more busses idea

When I was in seattle, packing up for my big move back to montana, there was a big issue with a stretch of freeway in downtown seattle.   The cost would be 4 billion dollars.   And there was an article in one of the papers from somebody that said that if we leave things the way they are, but put all that money into the bus systems, we could triple the total number of buses and let people ride for free for something like ten years.   This would remove more than half the cars from the roads. 

Parking and so many other things about owning a car in seattle are soooo expensive.   I rode the bus dozens of times, but about half the time, something went wonky.   The buses were late or the bus was so full that it drove right by.   Plus, the cost of the bus was high enough that when you look into it, you don't save that much over a car. 

One time I spent a week in san francisco.   You never looked at a bus schedule.  You just went to a street and found a bus headed in the general direction you wanted to go.  A bus was going by every three minutes or so.  It was brilliant! 

I would think that this sort of thing would be the norm in cities.  If gasoline was $8 per gallon (because we were not subsidizing it with taxes), and if were not making all sorts of choices because automobile lobbyists and automobile shenanigans, then I suppose this would be the norm. 

And with improvements in batteries and the like - maybe electric buses running on batteries would be the norm.   Maybe each bus would be plastered all over in solar panels. 

I think the author of the article was on to something.   Once the funds were put into buses instead of more roads, I do think it would take more than half the cars off the roads.   And then there would be hardly any traffic.  So it would also be of benefit to the people that wanna keep driving cars too. 




 
Justin Rhodes
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Till with chickens and a broadfork (instead of a machine tiller)

You knew I'd say that one ^^^ so I got it out of the way real quick

Work from home

Home school

Home church

Home cook

Grow food at home

Home etc...

Did I say, "stay at home?"

Group a buuuunch of errands when you go to town

Opt for standard shipping when you order online

Share a car with your spouse

Buy digital when possible






 
John Weiland
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@Travis J: "Make a car that can be quickly and easily snapped together in modules, and it would reduce the overall consumption of fuel vastly. Big trucks could do this same thing, sizing them only for the weight they are hauling at the current moment. "

@Paul W: "  You just went to a street and found a bus headed in the general direction you wanted to go."

Great ideas here!  I was poking around with Google trying find an example of one of those Japanese 'mini-trucks' that maybe someone had outfitted with a 5th-wheel hitch and found the Honda ad below.  I like the idea of small cars of the future being linkable.  Why drive a Chev Suburban everyday just to own it for those days of family vacation when you could drive a smaller vehicle that would hitch up to a "family unit" pod.  (That way, dogs, cats, chickens, pigs, and unruly kids could ride in the back pod ....    ).  Additionally, with the expanding repertoire of "digitalia", those cars that are driving to work could sport an external screen with the car's destination:  "UCSF campus", "San Jose Intl. Airport", "Alcatraz Island", "Seattle Kingdome"....you get the idea.  Those on foot heading to those destinations could flag you down for a lift, paid or pro bono.
CubeCamper.JPG
[Thumbnail for CubeCamper.JPG]
 
Travis Johnson
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I volunteer for a Christians Summer Camp where they have one of those mini-trucks and they are PERFECT! However, there is a flaw in them now. They put a governor on them and as such the new ones can only be licensed in maine anyway as a 4 wheeler (ATV) where as before they could be registered for the road. It is too bad, they are incredibly useful. Quick, go anywhere, seldom get stuck, and efficient. I cannot say enough good about Mini-Trucks...just take the darn governor off so they can do highway speeds again and be permitted for the roads!!
 
Roberto pokachinni
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if individual cars will remain as a part of the culture for the foreseeable future, then change the mindset towards fuel efficiency and away from "power" (I can't begin to add up  all the times I've heard someone say "That vehicle with that small of an engine will be "underpowered"!.....). 
  I don't know about where you live, but where I live we have posted speed limits... but they don't really seem to be limits at all.  Everybody speeds; that's the norm.  There is some weird thought pattern that says something about the speedometer not being guaranteed accurate, so a person is allowed to go 10% greater speed then he would otherwise, thus a posted speed limit of 100km/hour actually allows a person to go 110, or in a 70 zone, 77 is allowable.  The speeds aren't just allowable, they are the norm.  If you are not exceeding 100 in a 100 limit zone you are going to slow!  To exacerbate this situation, the highway that I am on the most for my job is full of people from Alberta (as it's the fastest route between Edmonton Alberta and Vancouver, B.C.), who actually have some speed limits of 110 and 120, so they are used to driving faster and expect to do so regardless of 100 zones.  I don't know how many times I have been in close accident situations because someone feels the need to exceed the speed limit as a matter of course. I am curious what the quantity of fuel that is burned extra, just because so many people routinely speed. So my idea: Slow down; it's not only safer by several orders of magnitude, but it is actually quite legal within reason, and will save a massive amount of fuel over time.

On the subject of slowing down, I think that if the culture in general put the breaks on a bit and changed gears, we would become much more efficient in so many ways.  The masses of the West (whom the rest of the world is looking for an example) want instant gratification for some reason, with everything they do, and expects their monster house to be built in 3 weeks.  Somehow we expect this sort of mindset to adapt to reducing it's carbon footprint...  We have a lot of work to do.  But the first thing that we can do, if we have the opportunity to lead by example, is slow various processes down, so that we conserve our energy.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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Roberto pokachinni wrote: I am curious what the quantity of fuel that is burned extra, just because so many people routinely speed.

Not necessarily any. The basic formula for fuel consumption relates to mass and distance. The inbetween is a number of fuel efficiency factors, some of which sometimes results in superior mileage at higher speeds [assuming, of course, that these are sustained higher speeds and not repeated breaking followed by accelerations]
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Not necessarily any. The basic formula for fuel consumption relates to mass and distance. The inbetween is a number of fuel efficiency factors, some of which sometimes results in superior mileage at higher speeds [assuming, of course, that these are sustained higher speeds and not repeated breaking followed by accelerations]
From what I understand, engines are designed to perform at certain optimum RPM's in certain gears, and will burn considerably more fuel if those optimum RPMs are demanded in excess of it in a given gear.  While newer engines seem to be able to either handle higher RPMs or are geared higher so that they maintain lower RPMs while delivering more power, they do not seem to do so with any great deal of actual fuel efficiency when compared to fuel efficient models not 'designed' for power and speed.  While sustaining a given RPM level will save more fuel than continuously going between a slower speed and a faster one, as Kyrt described, if a person sustains the optimum RPMs throughout his/her driving, accelerating slowly and then maintaining the speed evenly, then they achieve better mileage; that part of this quote I can certainly understand and agree with.  When people speed, and come up on someone who is not going quite as fast (but is going the speed limit), they expect to pass, and when they do, their engine is often pushed in excess of the optimum RPM's (especially on winding mountain roads with short passing zones where I live); one can hear the engine roaring, and that is burning fuel.  The only reason that that fuel is being burned is that that person has some supposed need to drive with excess speed.
 
Travis Johnson
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It used to be that way, but a lot has changed now that cars are computerized. I heard on the radio the other day that most cars today average 134 computer processors and so the days of ideal rpms in certain gears is long gone. With fuel injection and variable speed automatic transmissions, the whole notion of "gears" are gone too. With computers constantly adjusting fuel mixtures based on atmospheric temp, speed, altitude, RPM's, turbo intake, and a slew of other factors all being computed many times in a millisecond, speed is not so much a factor. They are optimized no matter what speed the car or truck is moving at.

For instance when I started driving trucks we had massive 2 stroke Detroit Diesels where the joke was, "the best way to drive them was slam your finger in the door first thing in the morning, get good and mad at the truck, and drive like a lunatic all day." It was not far from the mark. It took getting a run for the hills to get up those hills, but things suddenly changed when we got 60 Series Detroits. Now those were computerized and when you went to run up a hill, if the computer did not like that you were pressing the accelerator harder then you needed too, it literally would push your foot back on the accelerator. The computer was in control, not you. It took some getting used to, but as fuel mileage crept up from 4 mpg to 6 and even 8 mpg, having the computer decide how to drive was well worth it in the wallet! Cars took awhile to get to where trucks were, but have come close, those trucks are far more computer controlled then cars still.

That is why I would like to see a modular system. As Kyrt points out, a truck takes a lot of energy to accelerate from zero to even 35 mph...why spend the money to do that for a single person who does not need the bed of a truck or a multi-person vehicle? Make the cars of tomorrow modular and you eliminate far more petroleum consumption than a v-8 pickup passing you on the highway at 140 km with 4 of those 8 cylinders shut off because the computer inside it knows the laws of physics and that "a body in motion, wants to stay in motion and that it only needs to overcome friction of the tires and wind resistance in order to maintain its speed."

But in a lot of ways this stuff is not new. The Stanley Motor Carriage Company still had the record for greatest speed with the smallest engine. With only a 6 hp engine, their car topped 127 miles per hour in one mile in 1909. Granted it was the celebrated Stanley Steamer (a steam powered car), but it still had an eductor that cut back the pressure once it grew past 500 psi...an insane pressure, though it was rated for 650 psi.
 
Miles Flansburg
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My dad had his own auto repair business in the 1960's. He always told the story of a guy who came into his shop who wanted dad to market his carburetor kit. This kit would make any car get 60 miles per gallon. My dad tried one on his station wagon and it worked. Dad told the guy he would help sell them.  A few weeks went buy and a couple of other guys came to the shop. They wore suits and did not like that my dad and his partner were selling the kits. These guys told them to stop selling the kits or they may have unfortunate accidents.  Dad always thought that these guys worked for some oil company.

The moral of the story is that there are lots of inventions out there that could make our vehicles burn less gas but most of them are suppressed or bought up and put on a shelf.  There is just way to much money in oil.
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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Is 'petroleum use' ony about cars? I don't think so. Many other machines use a fuel based on petroleum. And many other products are based on it (on oil from the earth or petroleum).
 
Travis Johnson
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Oh for sure, but the work done to energy consumed ratio is far different on other machines. Take for instance megaships and locomotives; yes they consume fuel,but the amount of work accomplished is far greater then a car hauling a single passenger to work. It is kind of a sad statistic, but while many people applaud buy local; while there are many more reasons to do so then just basing it upon oil consumption, by amount of fuel consumed to food bought, it is a terrible ratio. As Paul Wheaton observed one day, a mid-sized truck consuming fuel at 6 mpg toting a ton of food to a farmers market, then toting half of it home makes little sense. Transportation over the years has actually decreased in fuel consumed, and not increased, because transportation is getting bigger and more efficient.

This same concept also applies to farming. Years ago we had smaller tractors and our fuel consumption was pretty high, but as the farm grew, the need for a high hp tractor did too. Many looked at that 400 hp tractor with animosity, but we could actually plant corn at 3/4 of a gallon per acre instead of 3 gallons per acre. And my little 25 hp Kubota, because of its limited drawbar pull; would consume about 5 gallons per acre to accomplish the same task. Cute little tractor, but from a practicality point of view, it is woefully an excessive fuel consuming machine.

the answer to me; to a less petroleum based world means reverting back to steam and relinquishing the regulations thereof. Today with computerized controllers, the need for such regulations would not be warranted. Considering the amount of computer intelligence it takes to operate a fuel injection system, the same could be done with steam powered equipment and alternatives to petroleum fuels. Here in Maine, the most forested state in the nation at 90% forest, we are losing our low grade market for wood...paper mills. Only 6 remain in the state, yet industry here is dependent upon the forest industry. Why not use that same high volume of low grade wood to power useful items like farm tractors and locomotives again?

Another controversial alternative would be nuclear power. Imagine how much less petroleum would be burned if farmers, a scant 1/2 of a percent of the population, was allowed nuclear powered tractors? We feed the other 99-1/2% very cheaply so why not cut us a break, reduce fuel consumption and allow us to feed a hungry nation? I think as an occupation we have proven our ability to do just that safely and at low cost. The technology is there to do it ten times better then it was when the last nuclear power plant was put online.

There are alternatives; it is just finding someone to champion the cause and move forward. Myself, I volunteer at a camp for children, and before any project is tackled, there are people that give 15 reasons why it cannot be done. There is value in that exercise, but in the end they are usually dispelled slowly. Two months ago it was reported that "it will take 5 years to make this look good"; a 18 acre area cleared of forest and needing to be stumped and the soil leveled. Five weeks later they claimed, "I never thought it would look good this quickly."

Base your energies on hope, never fear.




 
Kyrt Ryder
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@ Travis: Do you have any thoughts on the premise of decentralizing energy consumption? On the concept of going back to small farms close to a city that have no use for anything larger than the 25HP tractor, but they make an active effort to use it as infrequently as possible [possibly even having shares in said tractor as part of a co-op rather than owning it individually]
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Is 'petroleum use' ony about cars? I don't think so. Many other machines use a fuel based on petroleum. And many other products are based on it (on oil from the earth or petroleum).
  I completely agree.  The bigger issues go well beyond combustion of various petroleum types.  The overwhelming majority of the global stock markets are driven by petroleum based stocks, but those also include such things as chemicals, and pharmaceuticals which are mostly unnecessarily made from petro-chemicals.  It also includes plastics, and synthetic poly based fabrics, which could easily be replaced by natural renewable resources.  I could go on. 

...So when Paul writes:
The first thought people have is to buy an electric car and powering it, mostly, with solar panels.  Of course, there might be a thousand gallons put into building that car, or transporting thousands of little fiddly parts to the car manufacturing site. 


I have to agree that reducing our own consumption of fuel is a huge thing to do, and to encourage in others, but we have to keep in mind the impact of creating everything in our lives.  With reducing everything that is petroleum based in our lives, including all things that also have to be manufactured in an energy intensive manner, or hauled long distance to get to you, we make better decisions on all of these multitudinous fronts.

While I very much agree with Paul's sentiment that we have to take the revolution home, I also very much agree with his opening statements:
So many people have gone to protest oil use.   There is a lot more to it, of course.  And it is good that somebody protests.  It is good to see a large crowd there. 
  To that effect, large scale protest on many levels aimed at stopping further globalized industrial petroleum development allows us as citizens to take make the larger front personal on a different level.  Those two things (Paul's included), plus focusing on local appropriate energy projects will create a very different economy.

 



 
Travis Johnson
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I am not against the idea, but it does not work well where I live in Maine. Let me explain...

Here in Maine co-op farming is a difficult venture unlike other areas of the country due to our weather and short growing seasons. The Amish are here, but it has only been in the last few years by their own admission that our growing seasons are too short. Because of that, and our rather sporadic weather it is just plain hard to share equipment. Put another way, when a window of weather opportunity arrives to say do haying, plant crops, or even harvest them, it has to be done that week or else! Because a co-op would need so much equipment, the concept of co-op farming loses its greatest virtue, so it is not done here. An individual farmer is just plain better off buying what they need for equipment and going from there. It does however make farming tough in Maine. BUT THIS MAINE; other areas of the country and world are different I know. I make no judgements there. In fact, keep in mind, I might be a next-generational...life-long farmer, but I have only done so here...on this farm and nowhere else.

The problem I see here is people trying to conform the land to things in which it is not well suited. Maine has its issues, but pasture is not one of them. Due to topography, weather conditions, proximity to the coast, elevation, and the jet-stream, New England has the best pastures in the world. It is a short growing season, and we cannot winter graze here, but pastures is idyllic for all but 160 days. Rather then see beginning farmers tap into cheap farm land and raising grazing animals, they try to grow row crops in crappy soil, teeming with rocks, and marketing at farmer markets that are already over their marketing capacity.

All this is things my own family, farmers in New England since we got off the Mayflower (literally), struggle with; then and now. And while I used my tractor to highlight how inefficient it is, trust me when I say this, I am not all that bad. I typically try to refrain from numbers, but in this case I must state that I use a 25 hp tractor on a several hundred acre farm. Around here, it is normal to see 60 hp kubota tractors on 3 acre farms. Holy smokes man...that is a lot of tractor for 3 acres!! Yes a bigger tractor is worth it, but the drawbar pull has to be matched to the size of the farm. This can be difficult. I can and should buy a bigger tractor for my size farm, BUT, the equipment I have is sized for our old potato farming days (1838-198. 10 foot equipment was fine then for teams of horses and tractors of that era, but for me to buy a bigger tractor, then bigger equipment to match, would be hard to pencil out on the narrow margins that sheep farming has. Now my bulldozer, because of its traction and reduction ratio in the final drive, has a drawbar pull that is high. yet matching equipment to that is a nightmare. It can pull bigger implements should I have them, but it lacks the hydraulics, PTO, and 3 point hitch system to do any measurable amount of farming. (It primarily is used for logging).

I am a huge fan of RG LeTourneau and have read his autobiography many many times, and I while I will always admire the man, he is known to say, "There are no big projects, just little machinery." In other words, build the equipment bigger. That has never been my mantra. I am the opposite, finding pleasure in doing big projects with small equipment. Due to family, I could use a skidder and pull out a load of logs with a skidder, instead I use my tractor and log trailer (tiny in comparison) and do the same thing. I burn less than 5 gallons in fuel doing so in my way; $1200 in 3 days time. A skidder would produce the same amount of wood; $1200, take 2 days time, and burn 60 gallons of fuel doing so. I feel I am ahead (not to mention leaving no unsightly ruts behind, being able to work in any weather, and having clean logs that do not get deducted at the log yard).

If I seem wishy-washy it is because I do not have the answer. Farmers work with razor thin margins...my sheep farm literally can boil down to pennies in decision making...but I know for certain oil consumption has killed a lot of farmers in my area. As I said before 90% of the land base is forest which conveys 10% is field. That means a farmer here has to travel to fields...to spread manure, plant, harvest, etc and that all costs a lot of money. Fuel is not make-it-or-break for my farm because of what I raise and how I farm, but I have always been honest with people, and will be here...repairs (break downs) have been my killer this year. I am not sure if it is because I just retired and am pressing old equipment into full time service, or if using small equipment for big jobs is taxing it to the breaking point? I honestly think it is the former and not the latter (because using a 5 foot disc in a field just means more passes around the field, and not truly more stress on the implement itself). But as I said, I am not the one with the answers.
 
Travis Johnson
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True Story: How Oil Killed My County

From the 1950's to 1988 our county did really well. We were the #2 chicken producing facility in America. Chicken barns were everywhere, and while we raised potato, we had 50,000 birds ourselves. Most barns held 200,000 bird though in comparison. If you owned a few acres you could throw up a barn and raise chickens. My town alone had 3 stores and a feed mill for cow and chicken grain. Families farmed together, Dads and Momes went to school plays for the kids, the husbands were on the local fire department and the excess manure was given to dairy farmers and potato farmers for fertilizer. They could grow crops cheaply from that free manure. We honestly did not know how good we had it.

But this is Maine, and here you need heat to raise chickens and here for homes or chicken barns, it was #2 heating oil that did it.

When the price of oil went up in the 1980's, we could not compete with the south who did not need to heat their buildings. One after another, poultry slaughtering facilities closed and so with it went the feed mills and stores. My town went from 3 stores to none, the feed mills have been scrapped, the railroad is shut down here, because jobs are 40-60 minutes away at best, the town fire department has an automatic call for any fire to go county wide because no one is in town to fight a house fire. There are no potato farms left...NONE, and very few dairy farms because fuel and fertilizer costs have made selling milk a losing operation. And so today we are the most poverty stricken county in all of New England...not just Maine, New England. To show just how bad it is, our church feeds 140 children every Wednesday who are impoverished. I heard one kid say, "Man I wish we could eat this at home." We were eating hot dogs. My good friends, if that does not bring a tear to your eye, you need a humanity check. Hot Dogs...we now pack up meals and snacks for kids during vacation weeks and summers because they literally are starving.

It is sad. All due to expensive oil.

Yet we could rise again from the ashes...literally. As I said our pulp wood market at paper mills is gone, but instead of using wood to make paper for news print, we could heat barns. Coupled with geothermal, radiant floor heat, and rocket stoves...far more efficient ways then the 1980's hot water systems, we could economically raise chicken. It could be done, but finding a company willing to build a slaughter facility would be a challenge, as well as other issues. But there is always hope.

There is always hope!
 
John Weiland
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@Travis J.: "It is sad. All due to expensive oil."

I suspect if voodoo economics (or maybe just contextual ethics  ) is at work anywhere, it has to be in oil.  Another sad example of waste of petroleum and other resources in the ag sector.  Below is (was?) a sugarbeet field.  It looks harvested, but it's not....the rows were defoliated as they would be for harvesting, but that is just so that plowing the field down next spring will be done more easily. Although sometimes a field is forfeited due to unacceptable levels of disease, often they are abandoned due to overproduction.  This year's crop was huge....~28 tons per acre with a gross payment of ~$43.00 USD per acre (=~$1200.00 per acre) and many factors go into abandoning a field when it is a good-looking, harvestable crop.  But the upshot is that some sizable amounts of diesel were used to prep and plant the field, cultivate the rows, spray the weed-killer and fungicides (partly done with spray planes as well),  and finally once the decision is made to abandon the field, to top (defoliate) the beets......and plow them back into the soil either in the fall or the spring.  I supposed the good news is that all of the carbon in the tops and the beet roots will go back into the soil,.....but those are some strange petro-economics that enables it all to happen.
BeetGraveyard.JPG
[Thumbnail for BeetGraveyard.JPG]
 
Roberto pokachinni
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As I said our pulp wood market at paper mills is gone, but instead of using wood to make paper for news print, we could heat barns.


Here's an idea: Instead of just heating the barns with wood heat, a farm could use the same wood in a process of gasification to run it's tractors, trucks, and other equipment.   

Here's another one:  The barns could also be heated via composting chicken or cattle manure, or wood chips, like Jean Pain did with wood chips.

The former idea, gasification, has as a by-product high quality char for bio-char.  The latter, heating through the compost process, high quality compost, and possibly, if done sealed properly, methane to burn.

A combination of the two, could yield some really high quality soil systems as by-products, by inoculating the char with the compost, and laying it onto fields.  


 
Roberto pokachinni
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I agree. Here's the link: http://stoves2.com
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