Several years ago National Geographic magazine published an article on oil that included a stunning photo of mature steer and the barrels of oil needed to grow an animal to that size. I recently went looking for that picture, found it, and post it here because it hasn’t lost its impact or relevance one bit. Here’s the caption that accompanies that photo:
Weighing in at 1,250 pounds (567 kilograms), Marina Wilson’s champion steer Grandview Rebel is ready for auction at a county fair in Maryland. Raising this steer has taken an agricultural investment equal to 283 gallons (1,071 liters) of oil, represented here by the red drums. That includes everything from fertilizers on cornfields to the diesel that runs machinery on the farm. Overall, it takes three-quarters of a gallon of oil to produce a pound of beef.Yowza! Three quarters of a gallon of oil to produce a pound of beef. At $4.00 per gallon, this implies the cost of a pound of beef includes $3.00 worth of oil. In reality, the oil is used for illustrative purposes only. The energy in the food systems comes from many sources, such as natural gas for fertilizer and drying grains, and the electric grid for almost everything. Broadly, however, industrial energy sources tend to have correlated prices and oil is considered the lynch pin since it is involved in the transportation of all goods, including energy inputs. Given the heavy use of oil in the food system wouldn’t you expect oil and food prices to correlate? Well they certainly do. The above graph comes from the web site of Paul Chefurka and derives from easy to get, publicly available data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the US Energy Information Agency.