Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hurray we are saved, the USA is a net fuel exporter

It’s time for a little break from the drudgery of spreadsheets.

I can't resist on commenting on this misleading story in the WSJ, titled: "U.S. NEARS MILESTONE: NET FUEL EXPORTER"

The article is behind a pay wall, so I only have what was quoted in today's (11/30/2011) edition of ASPO-USA's Peak Oil News, but that was enough:

U.S. exports of gasoline, diesel and other oil-based fuels are soaring, putting the nation on track to be a net exporter of petroleum products in 2011 for the first time in 62 years.
A combination of booming demand from emerging markets and faltering domestic activity means the U.S. is exporting more fuel than it imports, upending the historical norm.

According to data released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration on Tuesday, the U.S. sent abroad 753.4 million barrels of everything from gasoline to jet fuel in the first nine months of this year, while it imported 689.4 million barrels.

That the U.S. is shipping out more fuel than it brings in is significant because the nation has for decades been a voracious energy consumer. It took in huge quantities of not only crude oil from the Middle East but also refined fuels from Europe, Latin America and elsewhere to help run its factories and cars.

I will also note that the story is similar to this one in May 2011:

In February, the U.S. exported 54,000 more barrels of petroleum products each day than it purchased abroad, with diesel and finished petrol leading the increase. According to the American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, U.S. refined product exports rose in the first quarter of 2011 to 2.49 million barrels per day, a 24.4 percent year-over-year increase, the Financial Times reports.

In the first quarter of 2011, imports dropped to 2.26 million barrels a day, a 14.4 percent year-over-year decline, according to the FT.

This might seem like realy good news: the first time since 1949, or 1991 depending on which story you believe, the USA is a net exporter!! WOW, all those peak oilers were so full of it; its time to go out and buy that new SUV!

Many of the comments at the WSJ site agreed with this view point.

Some of the comments had a different take:  they complained that this just meant that American were consuming so much less fuel than in previous years, and, that's why there are now net fuel exports.

Only a very few comments recognized how misleading the article was.

The WSJ article does note, correctly, that its been 62 years, 1949, since the USA was a net exporter—of unrefined "crude oil" See e.g., Figure 11 of  Trends in USA Petroleum Production and Consumption, reproduced below:

As you can see from this figure, there is just no way that the USA could be a net crude oil exporter in 2011 without there being a total collapse in consumption while still maintaining production. 

However, rather than talking about crude oil, the article appears to be presenting data on barrels of refined oil products, such as, "gasoline to jet fuel." 

The quoted exports of refined oil products of 753.5 million barrels over 9 months (about 270 days) works out to be about 2.8 million barrels per day (mbd).  The quoted imports of refined oil products of 689.4 million barrels over 9 months equals about 2.6 mbd. 

So we are talking about a net difference of only about 0.2 mbd?  How important is this to the USA? 

And, does this now mean that after 61 years, the USA is now free of foreign oil imports?  

My Answers: Not very important, and no, it does not.

To gain some perspective on these numbers, let’s take a look at this portion of Figure 5.1b from the EIA's Annual Energy Review 2010, , publically released on October 19, 2011.  

Now we are getting a better picture of what the USA’s petroleum flows are:  in 2010 the USA was importing about 9 mbd of crude oil plus about 2.6 mbd of refined oil products.  And in exchange, the USA's exports of refined oil products was about 2.3 mbd (the USA currently exports negligibly small amounts of crude oil).

The big news is that for the first nine month of 2011 refined oil products exports are up slightly and refined oil products imports are down slightly, thereby causing a crossover.  It looks like the last time this happened was in 1957, 54 years ago. 

Here’s yet another perspective, from Figure 5.0 of the EIA's Annual Energy Review 2010.

That thin sliver at the top right of the figure is what these stories are talking about.

But, according to this figure in 2010, the USA imported 9.16 mbd of crude oil and exported 2.17 mbd of refined oil products.   Moreover, domestic consumption of refined oil products was 19.15 mbd.

Not much will have changed in 2011.

So, the 0.2 mbd net difference implied by the WSJ figures is only about one percent of the USA’s refined products consumption in 2010.  Excuse me if I don't do back flips over one percent.

Despite the rhetoric of the story, the USA is still a strong net importer of crude oil.  With 5.51 mbd of domestic crude production, and 9.17 of crude oil imports, 62 percent (9.17/(5.51+9.17))
of the USA crude is imported. 

This is not likely to change any time soon.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Trends in Chinese Petroleum Production, Consumption and Imports

In this post, I summarize my export land model analysis of China using the published petroleum production and consumption data from the BP Statistical Review for 2011. 

China’s enormous economic expansion over the past 15 to 20 years has been fueled by a large increase in petroleum consumption, making China increasingly dependent upon the global export pool.   This trend is likely to increase in the future as China becomes more and more dependent on petroleum imports until the global export pool declines.

Data Analysis Method
My approach to data analysis is the same as what I have done in the past in my multi-part global regional survey.  In that survey, China was part of, and dominated the numbers and trends, for the Asia-Pacific region, accounting for roughly half of both production and consumption.  (In retrospect, I regret not having separated out China from the rest of the Asia-Pacific in that analysis—but may be next time next time.)

All production, consumption and import/export rates (dQ/dt) are reported in units of billions of barrels per year (bbs/yr).  I used the production and consumption data to derive a “reported” net exports (or imports), as production minus domestic consumption.

I fit a logistic models (aka, the Hubbert Equation) to the petroleum consumption and production data using non-linear least squares (NLLS) analysis to obtain the best fit.  Further details of the modeling are presented in the series: Refining the peak oil rosy scenario.  Predicted future import/export trends are derived from the predicted production rate minus the predicted consumption rate.

Production, Consumption and Export/Import Trends
Figure 1 presents the reported production, consumption, and my derived net export/import, rates (blue, red and green open circles respectively) and the corresponding NLLS best curves (solid lines with the same respective colors) to these data. 

Both of the reported production rates and consumption rates for the have two distinct stages corresponding to 1965-82 and 1983-2010.  Accordingly, I modeled production and consumption using two separate Logistic equations for these periods.  The residual-sums-of-squares (rss) of the best fit from the six-parameter two logistic models were significantly better than the rss from the three parameter single logistic model (F-test for the significance of extra parameters, p << 0.001).

The scale used to show extrapolated future consumption is so large that the reported past production and consumption numbers are some what obscured, so I show the same data in an expanded scale, in Figure 1a.

From about 1973 to 1993, China was actually a slight net exporter of petroleum; although the peak in the net exports in 1985-86, about 0.25 bbs/yr, is only 1% of global production, about 21 bbs/yr, in those years. 

Since 1983, China’s rate of petroleum consumption took off and by 1993, sustaining this trend required net imports.  As illustrated in Figure 1a, since 2006, net imports have exceeded global domestic production, and in 2010, net imports (1.8 bbs/yr) accounts for 55% of domestic consumption (3.3.bbb/yr).

The NLLS best fit parameters Qo, Q∞ and the rate constant, "a," corresponding to the solid lines in Figure 1 are summarized in Table 1 below:

Table 1 summary of NLLS best fit parameter for production and consumption

Qo (bbs)
Q∞ (bbs)
a (yr-1)
Production 1965-82
Production 1983-2010
Consumption 1965-82
Consumption 1983-2010

After a rapid phase of increasing petroleum production at 26%/yr in the 1960s and 70s, resulting in a local peak of 0.78 bbs/yr in 1980, production has continued to increase since 1982, but at a much slower rate of 3.3%/yr.  

The rate of increase in consumption followed the domestic production trend until 1982, when the rate of increase in consumption slowed.  However, since then, the consumption rate increase is still more than double (7.4%/yr) the rate of domestic production increase (3.3%/yr), with the resulting imbalance being made up by increasing imports. 

According to the EIA, China in 2010, is now the world’s second largest importer of petroleum, second only the USA (Country Analysis Brief China).

China’s prospects for future petroleum sources
Figure 2 shows the locations of the major on-shore and off-shore oil basins in China.
I think that it is no coincidence that the signs of peaking domestic production in the late70s coincided with the timing of China’s economic reforms.  China’s leadership probably saw that their domestic production was peaking, reflecting the aging of the Daqing field in far northeast China discovered in 1959, and other older eastern onshore fields.  They probably also realized that they were going to have to develop trading partners to import petroleum from, and, to generate foreign capital to develop its domestic production, in the Tarim Basin and off-shore fields in the Yellow Sea, and East and South China Seas. 

Future development of oil production from the East and South China Seas is, and will continue to be controversial, as several other countries in the Asia Pacific region (Japan, Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam) have made overlapping territorial claims (Country Analysis Brief China).  Frankly, I don’t see how any of these countries could enforce their territorial claim against China, and so, the bulk of these offshore fields essentially are “in” China.

As discussed above, domestic production from the more newly developed oil basins has caused overall production to steadily increase since 1982.  But consumption has increased much faster over this period, causing China to increasingly look abroad, first in other parts of the Asia Pacific  (AP) region, but increasingly to the Middle East (ME), Africa (AF), the former Soviet Union (FS) countries and South America (SA): 

In 1990, just three countries merited breakout in the data as key suppliers of crude oil: Indonesia, Oman and Iran. By 1997, the list included ten, far more widely spread around the world: Oman (which had displaced Indonesia as principal supplier, shipping three times as much crude as China’s total imports in 1990), Yemen, Iran and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East; Indonesia in Asia; Angola and Congo in Africa; and Argentina, the United States and Russia among the “others”.

Since the time of this year 2000 IEA report, petroleum net exports for a number of these supplier countries declined, or stopped altogether.   For instance, a former key supplier, Indonesia, has become a net petroleum importer, and, both Oman and Yemen are headed towards the same fate, due to a combination of increasing domestic consumption and declining production. Based on the data reported in the BP Statistical Review for 2011, Argentina in 2010 is just barely still a net exporter, producing 0.24 bbs/yr, but, consuming 0.20 bbs/yr, so Argentina is no longer a significant import source.  

The EIA presented the 2010 break down of China’s import sources, in its Country Analysis Brief for China, reproduced below, in Figure 3

Over half of China’s imports came from Saudi Arabia, Angola, Iran and Oman in 2010.  The prospects for an increase in petroleum exports from Angola look reasonably good for the next few years, but I am expecting a decline in the late 2010s, and, no net exports by 2025 (see Trends in Angolan Petroleum Production and Consumption).   Iran and Saudi Arabia’s net exports have been flat, and will probably decline due to increasing domestic consumption (see Survey of Oil Exports from the Middle East).   The continuing trend for sanctions against Iran may push more Iranian oil to China in the short term.  China is looking to Venezula for future imports, and is willing to pay for future expansion and development, however, the general trend is for production to decline, and, the USA and Brazil are also potential importers of Venezula's oil (see e.g., Trends in Venezuelan Petroleum Production and Consumption).

Figure 4 shows the percentage of China’s imports of the global export pool from 1993 to 2009.   

The estimate of the global export pool comes from my previous study examining the production, consumption and net interregional exports for seven world regions (Figure 8 from Estimating the End of Global Petroleum Exports: Part 4 future global net export trends).  That earlier study showed that the ME, SA, AF and FS regions are net petroleum exporters and that the NA, EU and AP regions are net importers.  I predicted that inter-regional net exports would steadily decline and then end sometime between 2030 and 2035, depending on whether remaining exporters share or don’t the remaining export pool with ex-exporters.

Figure 4, illustrates that, despite signs of diminishing export sources, China has been taking an increasing portion of the available export pool.  China’s share of the sum of net exports from ME, SA, AF and FS have increased linearly from less than 1 percent in 1994 to 11.5 percent in 2009.  The slope of the linear regression analysis of these data is almost 3/4 of a percent per year. 

Just how long can this import trend continue?  

Some speculative futures trends
If the present trends continued unabated, as suggested by the blue and red lines in Figure 1, then by 2030, China would be producing 1.6 bbs/yr and consuming 8 bbs/yr.  That would likely make China the top petroleum consumer in the world.  But, this would also likely mean net imports of 6.4 bbs/yr.  In other words, about 80% of China’s petroleum consumption would have to come from imports. 

To put this into some perspective, this level of consumption and import dependence would much higher than the USA’s 2009 onsumption of 6.8 bbs/yr, and 61% dependence on imports to support that consumption (derived from Figure 11 of Trends in USA Petroleum Production and Consumption).  Indeed, the USA’s peak consumption from 2004-07 never exceeded 7.6 bbs/yr.

However, this is not what I am expecting to happen to China.

If the trends predicted in my previous multi-part global regional survey are correct, and inter-regional net exports end sometime between 2030 and 2035, then China’s consumption would have to fall back to its own domestic production. 

Figure 5 presents three speculative scenarios of what China’s consumption trend might look like between now and 2030-2035, assuming that my prediction regarding the end of exports is correct. 
The first two scenarios assume that the percentage of China’s proportion of the inter-regional net export pool stays frozen at its 2009 amount of 11.5 percent. 

In scenario I, the diminishing pool of exports is assumed to be proportionally shared with the former exporters regions, as they become the net importers.  In this case, as shown by the solid red line, the predicted outcome for Chinese consumption: a steady decline back down to its domestic production level by 2030. 

In scenario II, it is assumed that there is no sharing with the ex-exporters.  In this case, the decline down to its domestic production level is extended by 5 years to 2035 (long dashed line).

In scenario III (short red dashes), I more optimistically assume that China is able to maintain its present linear expanding rate of importation of the inter-regional net export pool, as shown in Figure 4, right up to the end of exports in 2035 (assuming a no sharing scenario).  

In 2034, China would be importing 30 percent of the export pool, but, the pool by then is so small as to add negligibly to China’s consumption.  Scenario III predicts that after peaking out a slightly over 3 bbs/yr in 2013-2014, China’s consumption starts to fall again back to its domestic production level by 2035.  This scenario would only be slightly modified by adding to it the sharing scenario; it just steepens the decline rate back down to domestic production in 2030, after peaking at about 3 bbs/yr in 2013.

The most recent consumption figures for 2010 suggests that all three of these scenarios are too pessimistic.  China’s reported consumption for 2010 (from the BP statistical review) was 3.3 bbs/yr, which is substantially higher than the 2.95 bb/yr predicted by the more optimistic third scenario. 

Since China’s production in 2010 is close to my prediction line (blue solid line in Figure 1, an dotted line in Figure 5), this relative spike in consumption signifies a spike in imports.  To have this kind spike in imports means that either the inter-regional export pool spiked, or, China’s proportion of the inter-regional export pool spiked above the trend line shown in Figure 4, or, perhaps a combination of both occurring.

Figure 6 presents China’s reported consumption and these speculative future trends in terms of per capita consumption in units of barrels per person per year (b/py), and, China’s reported and predicted population change out to 2050 (from the US Census Bureau International Database). 

The census bureau predicts that China’s population will top out at about 1.4 billion in 2026 and slowly decline thereafter.  If China’s consumption of petroleum were to continue unabated as predicted from the NLLS best fit shown in Figure 1, then per capita consumption would peak at about 6.6 b/py in about 2040.  That per capita consumption would still be still far less that the North America’s per capita consumption of about 24 b/py, and less than Europe’s or the Middle East’s consumption of 9.4 and 12.2 b/py, respectively, for 2009 (based on data presented in Figure 18, Part 5 Predicting regional petroleum consumption in a post-export world). 

On the other hand, if any of scenarios I, II, or III occur, or at least are close to reality, then China's per capita consumption will remain in the low 2s b/py and drop down to a plateau of 1.2 b/py by 2030-35.  The plateau exists because the predicted downward trend in population ("x" Figure 6) is roughly matched by the predicted downward trend in domestic petroluem production (blue doted line, Figure 5).

Although an export land model study of China is interesting in it own right, I did this study now as a prelude to a subsequent export land model analysis of food energy production, consumption and exports/imports.

I wanted to have an idea of what China’s petroleum consumption situation might look like when analyzing China’s food energy production and conception food situation, which will be forth-coming in December. 

Based on the scenarios explored in Figure 6, it looks like China would remain slightly above the 1 b/py per capita petroleum consumption levels that I found to be related to various indexes of increased hunger and signs of starvation (see e.g. parts 1-4 of The relationship between hunger and petroleum consumption).  I consider 1.2 b/py to be right at the edge of what the modern petroleum-driven food production system probably needs in order to function. 

That means by 2030-35, there will be not much petroleum left over for anything else, which in turn, means no economic growth.  In fact, I expect that China’s economic indicators will start to contract as soon as it is unable to import increasing amount of petroleum at the same rate as in the past.  That could happen very soon, although China’s official reporting statistics may obscure this. 


Next time, I will report on my export land model analysis of food energy production for China; see you then.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

USA Export land model analysis for food energy production and consumption: Part 3

Show me the few that stayed.  Farming is corporate now; there is still the myth of the family farm. Yea, you still have some fractional percent that are still out there, but they are working at Wal-Mart to pay for it, so that they can grow 100 acres of corn.  There is nobody that stays on the land.  There is kind of a resurgence in it, but it's San Francisco hippies that are going to grow some strawberries, and don't realize that agriculture is 10,000 years of human experience kind of throws you because they can afford to pay $15,000 per acre to grow strawberries, well, that's already suspect. 

But industrial agriculture owns America—18 percent of all America farmers grow 91 percent of all that we consume....Subsistence farms, which now is seen as a dirty word, and it wasn't a dirty word at all—we lived extremely well...and never saw a $1000 a year income....  Forty-four percent of Americans either lived on farms or something that depended on farms, the local store or whatever.  After World War II, they took a survey of what the soldiers were going to do after they came back, and they all said "we are going home." 

DuPont had made a lot of money sell Nylon for parachutes, tires, and all this; Union Carbide had made a fortune from the same nitrates that they burned the people in Dresden are now blasted in to the soil to grow corn and sterilize the who mid-west.  They realized that they had to create some consumers, and they said it openly in their prospectus.  They said it openly in Roosevelt's and Truman's social planning: we have got to get these people off these farms and into production jobs so that they will earn money so that they can buy things, so that we can maintain a war level of profits; instead of building schools out where they live.  This migration was about 11 years long, 22 million people moved, and, they founded the basis of the white underclass.  
2010 interview of the late Joe Bageant, from Big Ideas (6:30-9:00 minutes)

[Announcer doing a commercial announcement before Gov. Santini's interview]
Richard: brought to you by Soylent red and Soylent yellow, high energy vegetable concentrates, and new, delicious, Soylent green. The miracle food of high-energy plankton gathered from the oceans of the world.

Det. Thorn: It's people. Soylent Green is made out of people. They're making our food out of people. Next thing they'll be breeding us like cattle for food. You've gotta tell them. You've gotta tell them! 

Here, in part three, I provide my summary and conclusions devoted to assessing the USA’s food energy production and consumption (Part 1), and exports and global contribution (Part 2). 

My Central Hypothesis
Although petroleum is vital to the modern industrial-style food production system, petroleum is not necessarily the rate limiting factor in food production.  Anyone or more of water and soil depletion, climate change, urban encroachment of farm land, the migration of people from rural to urban settings and aging of farmers, could be, or become, the limiting factor before petroleum depletion does. 

One goal of this series, really this whole set of post discussing food energy, is to test the hypothesis that one of these other factors has, or is becoming, rate limiting to food production, thereby causing a slow-down in food production globally, in the USA, or in other regions, as compared to the growth in the production rate in the previous decades, at least since 1961 where the FAO data base starts. 

Based on the available data presented here, I have to reject this hypothesis for the USA.

There were no signs of a slow-down in the USA’s net food energy production rate (Figure 1).  The year-to-year change in the food energy production rate is highly variable, even when considering 5 year averages (Figure 2).  This variability at least sometimes is reflective of "bad weather" if not "climate change:" years with extended episodes of draught.  It is really a shame that the FAO doesn’t report more recent data, and we are stuck with data only up to 2007, as the present draught is a real doozy.

Although there is some signs for declining growth in the rate of food production, this is not a significant trend (Figure 3).   The average rate of growth in food energy production since 1961 has been about 2%/yr, which is about double the population growth rate. 

The USA is a Net Positive Food Energy Exporter
Although there are no signs that the USA’s absolute food energy production is in decline, or even reaching a plateau, there are definite signs of a plateau in absolute food energy net exports.  This is due to a combination of a peak, and slight decline, in food exports since 1980 plus an increase in food imports over the last 20 years (Figure 11).  Expressed as a percentage of net production, net exports are substantially down from a peak of 32 percent in 1980 to 21 percent in 2007 (Figure 10).

Nevertheless, the USA has been and remains a strong net exporter of food, having had positive food energy exports throughout 1961 to 2007.   In fact, this is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise depressing trade balance picture. 

Consider, for instance, the net positive trade income the USA gained from the net export of some key food items for 2007:

Table 2: Export, Import and Net Trade Values (billions USA) for selected items in 2007
Exports in Value
Imports in Value
Net Trade Value
Oils seed
Meat, Offals
Edible preparations
Mineral fuels (oil, distillates)
All industries

Although the selected food items in Table 2 brought in about $35 billion USD, this net positive trade value was dwarfed by the net negative trade of -$330 billion USD, spent on importing fossil fuels, and, the negative total trade deficit of -$854 billion USD in 2007. 

The value of the net-exported food items would have to go up a lot (e.g., an order of magnitude) before their positive trade value could put a significant dent in the trade deficit from fossil fuel imports alone. 

The Success of the Petroleum-Driven Green Revolution
We should acknowledge the remarkable accomplishments of America’s petroleum-driven food industrial complex over the last half-century.

First, a country holding about 5 percent of the world's population, and yet producing about 15 percent of the world's food energy production, is an enormous feat.  But, this feat is even more incredible when one considers that it is only a small fraction of that population that is actually involved in food production. 

Fewer than 2 percent of Americans farm for a living today (USDA Extension).  That would be about 6.1 million people in the USA in 2007 or, less than 0.1 percent of the world’s population, responsible for 15 percent of the world’s food energy production.  This is truly a remarkable accomplishment and a testament to the efficiency of the industrial, petroleum-driven food production system.  The number might even be more remarkable, if Joe Bageant is right, and 18 percent of all America farmers grow 91 percent of all the food.

Second, the USA remains an important source of food energy to the world, at one time accounting for over 1/3 of world-wide food energy exports.  Even in 2007, the USA still provided 14 percent of all global food exports (Figure 15).  In absolute food energy terms, that corresponds to about 1616 PJ, or, about 3% of the world’s total food energy production (55,972 PJ in 2007, from this post).  Perhaps 3% seems small, but 3% of 7 billion is 210 million people that are potentially supported by this food energy. 

Many developing countries throughout the world are trying to emulate America's success—that is what the Green Revolution has been all about.

So long as these developing countries have access to adequate supplies of petroleum, and some other factor is not rate limiting, then I would expect continued increases in global food energy production.  If the petroleum-driven Green Revolution can continue in the developing countries, I expect that the proportion and importance of USA food exports will continue to decline, as suggested by Figure 15. 

Some Concerns
1.         What happens as the petroleum declines?
One major concern is that this level of food production is likely only made possible by the “energy slaves”—the petroleum, and other fossil fuels, that are used to operate the machines used in the food production industry. 

I anticipate that there are some who will say, “a lack of oil is no problem; people can just go back to the farm and take the place of the fossil fuel ‘energy slaves’ to produce the same amount of food.” 

Let’s set aside issues like how inept America’s present population would be to productively go “back to the farm,” (starvation is a great motivator) and, the problems with exporting food in a world without oil (no need to transport food if we are all live on the farm).  Let’s also set aside the negative economic implications of declining petroleum production (as in Joe's younger days, we all work as subsistence farmers making less then $1000/yr).  

Let's just do the math.

Even if only 1 barrel of petroleum per person per year (1 b/py) presently is used in the food production system in the USA (my low-ball estimate, see Part 9), at 308 million people in the USA in 2007, that’s 308 million barrels per year devoted to food production.  And, if 1 b/py is equivalent to ten humans working for one year (see my previous global food energy series, Part 1), then 308 million barrels per year would be equivalent to about 3.08 billion human energy slaves per year, devoted solely to producing the food energy generated in 2007 in the USA. 

So, even if the entire US population of 0.308 billion devoted all their time and effort to food production, they would not be able to produce the same amount of food energy produced in 2007.  Indeed, I find it very doubtful that anything close to 2007’s 7871 PJ of food energy (Figure 9) could be produced with a purely manual human-driven food production system.  I am even skeptical that it would be possible to produce 2007’s 1900 PJ of food energy devoted to just the human food energy supply.

Eventually, I expect that Americans will play out this math exercise for real.  However, for reasons presented elsewhere, I think that might not happen for several decades, if petroleum, and not some other factor, is rate limiting to food production, and, if other food-strapped countries don’t coming looking to the USA for food and petroleum.  Maybe these are big ifs.

2.         The Lack of Food Resilience
A second major concern is the focus on producing huge amounts of just a few crops types for the bulk of food energy production.  For instance, corn, soyabean/soyabean oil and wheat accounted for 3/4 of the total net food energy production in 2007 (Figure 5). 

Perhaps this is a highly efficient way to produce food energy, and, the drive for financial profit continues to push towards ever-increasing efficiency in this direction, as illustrated by the trend to produce increasing proportions of these few food types. 

For instance, if the present trend continues, then I would expect that by 2020, corn will account for 90% of the food energy of all cereal crops, with wheat a distance second at 10% (extrapolating the trends in Figure 6).  Reductio ad absurdum, add another 10 years and around 2030, close to 100% of all cereal crops would be corn.

This worries me.  

If disease, insects or other pests, draught or other bad weather were to hit these big three crops, then there would be serious shortfall in food energy production.  Of course, I would expect that such a short fall would affect exports more than domestic consumption, so the world should worry too.

Another aspect related to the lack of resilience that worries me is that the number of people involved in food production continues to decline as the operators of the small and medium farms give up, or retire, and sell their property.  Along with them goes the agricultural knowledge base of past generations of farmers. 

Joe Bageant scoffed at what he called "hippy" farmers, but this group might be the early indicator of a return to subsistence farming and a preservation of that knowledge base—we'll just have to see. 

One thing that I am not particularly worried about is that a sudden disruption in petroleum imports would cause the present petroleum-driven food production system to permanently fail.  As I noted above, only a fraction of per capita petroleum use goes towards the food production system, e.g., 1-2 b/py as compared to a total consumption of about 20 b/py.  This is well within the amounts of oil produced in the USA, Canada and Mexico.  As I suggested elsewhere, a disruption in oil imports would likely lead to temporary food supply disruptions but, eventually there would be fuel rationing and a preferential direction of petroleum toward food production and delivery system. 

3.         The Large expenditure of Feed Energy on Animal-Derived Food-Energy
A third concern, or at least observation, is that the USA expends a tremendous amount of feed energy to produce animal-derived food energy.  By-the-way, this is why you should not worry about a “soylent Green” scenario:  the energy cost of expending feed-energy to raise people for food makes no more sense, energetically, than expending feed-energy to raise cattle or other live stock (but, if you disagree with me, you can stock up now before the rush: Soylent Green Crackers).

Feed energy accounted for the largest proportion of domestic food energy consumption, 34 percent in 2007 (Figure 9), corresponding to 2147 PJ of feed energy.  That’s even more than the direct human food energy supply.  But, this large amount of feed energy resulted in the production of animal-food energy of only 764 PJ (Figure 1).   That is, about 2.8 units of feed energy for every 1 unit of animal-derived food energy produced.   

This conversion ratio of feed energy to animal-derived energy apparently is lower than some traditional estimates of 5:1-10:1, but higher than a revised estimates of 1.4:1 by Fairlie (see comments by George Monbiot in Where's the beef? Or is this the end of meat?).  Apparently, the difference in these estimates lays in Fairlie’s consideration of the fact that a significant portion of feed energy is actually in the form of food waste, agricultural waste, or food processing waste that could not directly feed humans anyways (see comments by Simon Fairlie in Kangaroos as human food, and present day intensive animal farming).

This large energy expenditure of feed on animal food-energy production also makes more sense when you consider the relative monetary value of these food items.

Consider the 764 PJ animal-derived food energy in 2007: only 110 PJ is gross exported and 61 PJ net exported (i.e., 110 PJ minus 49 PJ of animal-derived food energy imported).    But, looking at Table 2 again, we see that the net trade value of meats and offals was $3.6 USD billion, which is almost 20% of the trade value of the cereals.  This is despite the fact that the total net exported animal-derived food energy of 61 PJ is only 5% of the food energy content of total net exported cereal foods, (1215 PJ, Figure 12).   That is, animal-derived food exports are valued about 4 times higher than the cereal food exports. 

Perhaps this is why it makes financial sense to expend 2.8 units of feed-energy to produce the 1 unit of animal-derived food energy. 

4.         Declining food exports and increasing imports
My fourth and final concern is that the USA’s net food exports have flattened and declined.   As explained in Part 2 (Figure 11) exported food energy has been flat and declining since about 1980 while imported food energy has continued to increase.  Consequently, the USA's relative contribution to global net food export energy has steadily diminished (Figure 15). 

This might also reflect a “success” of the petroleum-driven green revolution: increasing production of cheap food entering the export market such that it is increasingly cheaper for the USA and other developed countries to import food instead of producing and exporting the food domestically. 

This could also reflect an increase in a broader diversity of foods being imported (e.g., sugars, stimulants & alcoholic beverage, fruits; Figure 12A) that are being imported in exchange for the three major mono-crops of US production: corn, soyabean and wheat.  Either way, flattening exports and increasing imports does not bode well for the USA trade balance or for the ability of the USA to continue importing the diversity of crops needed for health living. 

The scope of this series is directed to assessing food energy (as made available in the FOA Food Balance sheets) and to not food quality.   But the trend towards producing and consuming greater proportions of processed or manufactured food (Figure 8) is also not a good sign for eating healthy.

Final thoughts
Yes, Joe Bageant was right, farming in America is corporate now, and increasingly devoted to corn and soyabean production.  That's where the money is, I guess.  But No, I don't think that this means any time soon, starving America’s will be eating “Soylent Green.”  Still, the direction of food production, consumption and declining exports all point to an increasing fragile food system.

There are not too many comments, or page views, for this, or the past global food energy series.  Maybe it’s all too obvious, or, not as sexy as peak oil.  Or, maybe people don’t understand what they are looking at because they have no frame of reference from past studies.  Perhaps it takes some time getting use to looking at this kind of data. 

I believe that this, and the last series, provides a unique perspective on food production, consumption and exports that, at least, I have not seen elsewhere.  As best I can tell, no one has every tried to take the food quantities reported in the FAO’s food balance sheets, convert these into energy equivalents, and then aggregate them to produce estimates of total net production consumption and exports, as done here. 

I will push on.
So, where to next?  How about China?