Sunday, August 31, 2014

There's a reason they don't grow that here

Economist/serial letter writer Don Boudreaux has penned a column on the idea of using heated greenhouses to produce local food in area unsuited for growing that type of food.

Some lands and local environments are better suited than are other lands and local environments to growing particular kinds of crops. Obviously, South Florida is better suited to growing citrus than is Western Pennsylvania. This fact, however, doesn't mean that Pennsylvanians couldn't grow all of their own citrus. They could indeed do so if they were to build many huge hothouses. 
Yet not only would such hothouses divert land in Pennsylvania from other valuable uses, these hothouses would have to be heated — a very energy-intensive procedure. We can be reasonably certain that the fuel costs of heating such hothouses are greater than the fuel costs of shipping oranges from Florida to Pennsylvania. The reason for our certainty is that if the transportation costs were greater than the costs of heating the hothouses, Pennsylvania farmers could earn profits by growing citrus in hothouses. These farmers would be able to sell their crops to Pennsylvania supermarkets at prices lower than the prices that those supermarkets now pay to stock their shelves with citrus fruits from Florida. 
But in reality, no farmers in Pennsylvania grow citrus in hothouses — a pretty good sign that the amount of resources required to operate citrus hothouses there is greater than the amount of resources used to ship citrus to Pennsylvania from Florida. 
What's true for citrus is true for wheat, peas, beef, pork, you name it. The lowest-cost place for producing any particular type of food is seldom close to home.

Citrus is an extreme example and most locavores make that argument that while tropical fruit is out of the question, vegetables like green beans are not. What I like about this column is that is answers that in an easy-to-understand way. Simply put, we can tell it's not a good idea because mainstream farmers aren't already doing it.

Maine farmer's are willing to make large operations for potatoes and blueberries, but for some reason cabbage doesn't come up. That's a clue that there are better places to grow cabbage.

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