Book Review – Power Trip

Joanna Schroeder

PowerTripI went to bed last night thinking I should write an ode to oil. It would be partially flattering as some of my favorite things come from petroleum by-products, and partially lambasting as our addition to it has caused such harm. The fuel to my passion last night? The book Power Trip by Amanda Little.

Little traveled the country for two years to take us on the journey of fossil fuels including oil and coal. One area where she spent considerable time is fossil fuel’s role in our food. It’s used to fuel the farming equipment. It’s used in fertilizer. It’s used to transport the food to market (on average, our food travels 1500 miles from farm to table).

To help us better understand the relationship between petroleum and agriculture, and agriculture and fuel, Little visited the Kansas farm of a dear agricultural friend of ours – former National Corn Growers Association President, Ken McCauley, where she was treated to a lesson in precision fertilizer application technologies, and the role of corn in ethanol production.

Farmers have been getting harassed of late about their use of fertilizer, and when Little asked McCauley what would happen if he, “cut out fertilizers altogether?” he answered, “If you don’t put your fertilizer on, you’ll cut your yields by half or more…Look at poor countries–when you travel to places that don’t use fertilizer you’ll see they’re raising a third of the yield.”

But what about organic farming that uses no fertilizer, asks Little in response to Micheal Pollen’s claims most notably made in his book Omnivore’s Dilemma? Well, I’m only going to give you a taste of what McCauley said….you’ll just have to read the book to discover his thoughtful answer.  “It’s not a way to maximize production…”

To read more about this book check out my separate review on energy.agwired.com. Ready to learn what McCauley’s answers are to sustainable farming, and why corn ethanol is so important to America? Then buy the book.

Book Review, NCGA