When it comes to energy, everyone loves efficiency. Cutting energy waste is one of those goals that both sides of the political divide can agree on, even if they sometimes diverge on how best to get there. Energy efficiency allows us to get more out of our given resources, which is good for the economy and (mostly) good for the environment as well. In an increasingly hot and crowded world, the only sustainable way to live is to get more out of less. Every environmentalist would agree.
But change the conversation to food, and suddenly efficiency doesn’t look so good. Conventional industrial agriculture has become incredibly efficient on a simple land to food basis. Thanks to fertilizers, mechanization and irrigation, the each American farmer feeds over 155 people worldwide. Conventional farming gets more and more crop per sq. foot of cultivated land—over 170 bushels of corn per acre in Iowa, for example—which can mean less territory needs to be converted from wilderness to farmland. And since a third of the planet is already used for agriculture—destroying forests and other wild habitats along the way—anything that could help us produce more food on less land would seem to be good for the environment.