If there was no oil left to make petroleum based pesticides, would we be able to grow enough food to survive?

I’ve heard that most of our pesticides and a lot of our fertilizers that allow us to grow food are petroleum based. Is there another substitute, or would we have serious problems growing enough food if we were to run out of oil?
I’ve heard that most of our pesticides and a lot of our fertilizers that allow us to grow food are petroleum based. Is there another substitute, or would we have serious problems growing enough food if we were to run out of oil? I’m just wondering if it’s even possible to sustain our current world population on naturally grown foods without petroleum based pesticides. We’re already pressed with food shortages even with the aid of these pesticides and fertilizers. Is there any way to sustain 6.6 billion(and rapidly counting) people without the aid of artificial pesticides and fertilizers? For an interesting view on this topic, see Gwynne Dyer’s article: How Long Can The World Feed Itself?

7 Responses to “If there was no oil left to make petroleum based pesticides, would we be able to grow enough food to survive?”

  1. d/dx+d/dy+d/dz Says:

    A better question would be what is the maximum sustainable.
    human population without oil-based agricultural inputs. There were food riots around the world this year despite a larger than sustainable crop due to oil-based inputs. The current US wheat stocks are at 60 year lows. If there were a crop failure in North America this year, the US would not have enough reserves to feed its own population until the following crop year. I think that the US should reduce exports to build a strategic stockpile of grain for its own consumption. The world population is already butting up against the limits of the available food supply. With fewer petroleum based inputs the question of who eats and who starves will come to the fore sooner rather than later.

    There are some very good biological alternatives to pesticides that work well for small scale farming. For example, ladybugs are commercially available to control aphids. Planting flowers with vegetables protects the vegetables from insects. Although these methods are not used enough at present, I think that farmers will adapt.

    The deeper problem with modern agriculture is a reliance on ammonia based fertilizers that are made with natural gas. 26 ammonia plants representing 42% of production have been shut down in North America due to high natural gas prices. Ammonia fertilizer is used as a substitute for crop rotation to increase the production of high calorie cereal crops. With less fertilizer, overall cereal production will fall.

  2. joecool123_us Says:

    100 years ago, there was no petroleum based pesticides.

    If we remain in the current model of highly industrialized, highly centralized, and highly fuel dependent agriculture that we currently rely on to survive, then yes when the oil runs out we will be screwed.

    However, if we take steps to decentralize food production, engage in local agriculture, use organic methods to raise crops, and return to a small scale system of raising food that mimics natures own way of keeping everything in balance, then yes the world will be able to feed itself.

  3. Going Cranky Says:

    no

  4. Amy L Says:

    Let’s put it this way: I see a lot of people mow their lawns using gas mowers and then rake up and throw away the grass and leaves. Then they spend their hard-earned money to buy fertilizer. Instead of getting some sun and exercise and manually weeding their yard, they instead spray chemicals to rid themselves of weeds. Then, because they don’t select the appropriate plants or plant them where they’re happiest, they spray the plants to rid themselves of the pests that arrive to feast.

    Agriculture isn’t much better. It took a dust bowl in the 1930’s to affect some change. But to answer your question, yes, we could, but only if the population is kept in check. If the worst-case scenario comes to pass, we may be hard pressed to feed the world’s citizens appropriately.

  5. te144 Says:

    Companies like Monsanto already produce a large variety of speciality seeds with pesticide-ability or pest-resistance. Rsearch into the sort of problem you cite is our best hope for the future.

  6. Shawn S Says:

    well yea you think this country used pesticides in George Washington times. you need all that crap

  7. ~Chris~ Says:

    There would be some problems with pesticides and fertilizers, but the worst issue if oil ran completely out would be plowing the fields, harvesting the food, and getting it to store shelves. The result could easily be a Malthusian Catastrophe on a global scale, which could kill enough people to reduce the Earth to the population levels which existed at the dawn of the twentieth century, meaning one out of every three people alive today would die. This would be worst in the third world, but it would also have a dramatic and terrible effect on the poor in first world countries, especially those living in areas where they would be unable to grow their own food, like the southwest or Alaska.