Farming - Initial Agriculture
How much land we will need to plant will be determined by our population size and farming efficiency. Back on Earth the most efficient farmers the world had ever seen resided primarily in the United Stated of America on the North American continent at the end of the 20th century. With about 300 million acres under cultivation a population of 300 million was supported. Naturally some foodstuffs were imported but there was a large net export advantage especially in grain crops. Of this land almost 25% was planted in corn, a major portion of which was used for livestock feed and ethanol production. With corn the astounding output of 120 bushels an acre had been achieved by the late 20th century
The factors which made such an unprecedented productivity possible were, on the natural side, climate, soil condition and an abundance of water. The human induced factors of large scale farms, machine use, fertilization, insecticide development and genetically modified plant species were equally important.
The site of our initial landing was chosen with a view to climate and water availability. In terms of temperature we should be fine but the growing season will be 2 and a half times as long. This will add problems of storage and the need to grow multiple crops each year. Timing of planting so that the crops become available sequentially rather than all at once will be important for an efficient harvest. If the soil type is favorable, a factor which presently appears likely, we will not have for some time the amount of special machinery, insecticides, and fertilizers employed on earth.
Some types of foodstuffs require special types of pollination; the use of bees for instance. We have brought along bees, but will they survive? Or if they cannot will another of Alchibah’s species take over their function? Even the presence and actions of earthworms have a large effect on crop yields and we have brought worms with us but the same questions asked about bees apply to them. We have only limited abilities to improve yield by genetic modification. It will be critical that we overcome any of the problems which present themselves as rapidly as possible.
We have hydroponics on board the Mayflower but this is a stopgap and short term aid at best. Incapable of rapid expansion, production requirements and transportation make it more labor intensive than food grown planetside. Most colonists have never eaten a real, non greenhouse tomato, when they do another one of the reasons will become obvious.
In the efficient areas on Earth direct farm work is the occupation of less than 2% of the population. Seven of the colonists were engaged as such before they joined us, luckily a higher number than chance alone would have provided. A survey and average of this “expert opinion”, suggests that we will be doing very well indeed in the short term, (short being 5 Alchibah years), to reach 15% of Earth values with 10% being far more likely.
Therefore, planning for a population of 200, to include expected births, about 2000 acres, or over three square miles, should be put under cultivation as quickly as possible. We will need double or triple the number of farmers initially though the use of robots might eventually minimize or eliminate this problem. Until we learn enough to teach the robots there seems no alternative. Provision for preserving and storing foodstuffs during the long non-growing times will also require additional labor at first but could well be taken over by the farmers once they were established.
It is already certain that the agricultural output will not be needed for fuel production as the abundant forests and clearing of land will provide more than enough biomass into the foreseeable future.
For additional discussion see Farming Livestock and Animal Husbandry.