Some reflections about interactions between Agriculture – Energy – Regional Development

Some reflections about interactions between Agriculture – Energy – Regional Development
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Agriculture in the widest sense - including breeding and forestry - is a multifunctional business section. Furthermore it is an integral way of life that strongly influences rural areas and their inhabitants.

Agriculture and Energy

Before the beginning of the industrial revolution agriculture was, besides wind and water mills, the main supplier of energy. Wood and residues of agricultural production were used for generating warmth, wood and charcoal supplied with processing energy for business, animals and the growth of fodder and food enabled mobility.
After about 150 years agriculture slowly returns to this kind of production. Using new, far more efficient technologies and methods in production of energy it creates a second or third economic pillar.
However, the priorities of agriculture‘s functions have to be determined by a - for the society essential - list:

  • Supply with food
  • Production of agricultural raw materials, e. g. fibres
  • Ecological functions in the widest sense and production of „public goods“, cultivation and preservation of landscape, protecton of nature and environment
  • Production of energy

If you understand agriculture only as a business section in the setting of unregulated market economy, this list of priorities cannot be adhered to. Production of food, but also activities for points 2 and 3 demand far higher quality, diversity and security, so these cause a far higher risk. The higher costs of these factors are not to be transferred to the prices because of globalisation. Anyway, many activities from point 3 cannot be committed to the price system in a market community.
But on the other side demand for „clean“ energy, such as „bio-energy“ is rapidly increasing and its production has only one aim: the highest amount of energy in biomass. These low requirements can easily be transferred in rising prices and reduce the risks while production process visibly. Due to these conditions agricultural production of energy would repress the growth of food as well as points 2 and 3 in many regions - especially in industrial nations - leading to a lack of food supply.
On the one hand future agropolicy must have the aim to develop or to preserve frame conditions and incentive systems granting the use of agricultural capacities following the priority list of social neccessarities for agricultural aims, on the other hand it has to enable the production of energy giving agriculture - again - an additional stabilizing footing.
More explicit: today‘s promotion of points 1 to 3 has to be brought up to date due to the new challenges caused by the upcoming of agricultural production of energy. Agricultural energy production only must be promoted, if it uses any kind of remnants (rests of wood, from the producton of food, defective products or surplusses which not can be used otherways) or capacities which not can be used in an ingenious way for the first three priorities, unfavourable areas or socally caused fallow fields.
This often mentioned competition between „dish and tank“ has to be settled in favour of the dish by politics.

Agriculture and regional development

In agricultural societies the small urban areas are supplementary spaces of rural areas, by providing and improving trade, administration, innovation and safety. In industrial societies, however, and even more in postindustrial societies, rural areas are supplieing them with food, ressoures, water for drinking or the industries, fresh air, areas for recreation and in an increasing amount also energy. This situation meets with the present situation in the EU.
Agriculture in the meaning mentioned in the beginning, is the most important motor and regulator of regional development in rural areas. With its actions it forms and determines more than 90 percent of these areas‘ surface and with it their possibility to fulfill the mentioned functions in supply and welfare. In addition agriculture influences parts of villages and the network of settlements, the regional business, certain infrastructure very much in rural areas.
According to this, future agropolicy has to support stabilisation and sustained development of rural areas, in combination with other policies, mainly regional policy, to make them able to survive and continue the supply for urban areas. Because of agriculture‘s great importance for this, the policy has to stabilize it. It has to put agriculture in position not only to do justice to its economic function as business section but also to provide services that only agriculture can make available effectively for the whole society: protection and care of the landscape, preservation of recreatinon areas, nature, plants, animals, the environ¬ment (soil, water) and biodiversity, guarantee food supply on long term and many more.
In my opinion only an - economical healthy - non-industrial peasant agriculture is able to achieve these aims. So a agropolicy suitable for the whole sociey has to promote this type of agriculture in a special way; directly with individual promotion for single farms and payments for non-commercializeable services, indirectly by ensuring an equivalent development of the rural areas to prevent their bleeding to death.
Relating to the interactions between agriculture, energy and regional development: decentral production of energy from renewable sources offers rural areas many advantages and possibilities to develop. The capital for the produced amount of energy flows not out of the region in global „financial systems“ anymore and so promotes the regional economy. The region‘s potential can be used more comprise, which promotes regional development. The demand for energy can be covered in a „green“ way, by a specific development of existant technologies completely just in a few decades. The regions get back more and more power about their energy supply they lost almost completely.
Agriculture can step in this decentral energy supply in multiple ways. It can promote suitable areals for wind power stations and build photovoltaics on roofs of farm and housing buildings. With that it gets a relatively safe additional income. Rests of wood can be sold as fuel (logs, chips, pellets). Other remnants can be used in the farm or - more and more - in cooperative plants for producing energy. At present biogas plants combined with networks for short distance warmth supply are most efficient. They are very flexible in producing electric energy and warmth and the residues from the fermenters can be used as natural fertilizer.
However, direct production of biomass for energetic use has to be examinated in every single case, because of the - already mentioned - conflict with the socially more important production of food, be subjected to the same conditions as the production of food and only take place on „free“ capacities. Disadvantanges of a shift to energy production would be taken by developing countries and the poor from the industrial nations, threatening the existance of the poor in developing countries. This is not to answer for.
In the new member countries of the EU in east and southeast europe, but also in the countries waiting for joining and the eastern partners of the EU agriculture is changing fundamentally. In many regions the transition has not finished yet and the adaption to EU regularities often just began. In this situation the common agropolicy has to set the course not only to stability in a market community, but also to fulfill all functions of agriculture according to the mentioned points. It has to get acriculture to the position to play its important holistic role for the regional development of rural areas. Any other case would exactly these regions bleed to death and disable them in being supply areas. This is including the integration of energy production as one of the footings of agriculture.



Dear H.H.Rieser, the production of some sorts of energy from the ag sector has always been part of the agricultural and forestry systems, for millennia, but the most recent ''modern'' experiences are quite unsustainable. In developed economies (US, Europe), it is economically a failure - it can be done only if highly subsidized; ecologically is a tragedy, because still we have to use fertilizers, hybrid seeds, pesticides, herbicides, machineries.., energetically it not convenient, because the energy consumed is more than the energy produced, socially, it can be totally mechanized and consequently does not help employment. In developing countries, agroforestry = the combined management of crops, shrubs and trees, could be the answer, but it requires time and well prepared advisors. Energy from oil palm plantations is ecologically a disaster, because pristine tropical forests are destroyed and an incredible biodiversity is lost... So, if you consider properly all aspects of sustainability, there is not much room for energy production in agriculture.

Commento originariamente inviato da 'fabio m santucci' in data 23/06/2010.