Grains don’t require a lot of energy. They were a key part of agriculture long before energy sources like fossil fuels came along. By investing lots of energy in farming grains (the biggest chunk of which probably comes from synthetic nitrogen fertilizer), farmers can greatly increase the amount of food they produce from a single acre of land.
We hear the most about how much energy is used to produce grains, particularly corn, because they are such widely grown crops, and because in addition to being used for food they are also used to produce ethanol, and when you’re using energy to produce more energy, it’s important to find out if you’re creating more or less energy than you are spending.
If you look at the energy and resources that are used to grow, say, tomatoes in the US today you’ll find many similarities to the energy costs of grains. The biggest single difference is that while grains like corn, wheat, and sorghum are harvested by mechanical harvesters (which usually run on diesel fuel), tomatoes are often still harvested by hand, which probably released less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but is certainly not a fun job at all.
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