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Reading the New England Food Vision Spreadsheets

The four workbooks posted here were constructed to calculate the “acreage footprint” of New England residents consuming three different diets: the Current diet, the Omnivore’s Delight diet, and the Regional Reliance diet.  They were designed to give broad estimates of the quantity of various foods that would be required to feed New England, and examples of the portion of these foods that might be grown within the region.  These spreadsheets have been slightly amended from the tables published in “A New England Food Vision” in June, 2014, and new versions may be posted in the future.

Here, we describe our approach to the calculations and introduce the reader to the spreadsheets. The Omnivore’s Delight workbook will be used as an example, and then major differences in the Regional Reliance and Current spreadsheets will be noted.  Further details explaining and interpreting these results can be found in “A New England Food Vision.”

    •    Current Diet

    •    Omnivore's Delight
    •    Regional Reliance
    •    New England Ag Land


Omnivore’s Delight

The Ag Footprint tab is the main output sheet.  The “Total Farmland Needed” column displays the acreage (in thousands of acres) that would be required to supply a projected 17 million New Englanders consuming the Omnivore’s Delight diet.  These acreage calculations are pulled from the tabs that follow, such as Veg, Fruit, Grain, Protein, and Livestock.  The column sums to a total acreage footprint of about 11.4 million acres.

For the Omnivore’s Delight scenario we have made 6 million acres of New England farmland available (as compared to less than 2 million today)—3 million acres used for cropland, and 3 million acres of pasture (which includes 1 million acres of cropland that is used as pasture).  We kept more than 70% of New England in forest as recommended by the 2010 “Wildlands and Woodlands” report from Harvard Forest.  Potential available farmland for each state was estimated by examining current and historical agricultural census data.  This is shown on the separate “New England Ag Land” spreadsheet.

The available acreage was then distributed among foods the authors thought would be most appropriate to produce from New England soils: primarily vegetables and fruits on cropland, and dairy and beef on pasture and hay.  This left some cropland that could be used for beans, grain, or oil seed crops.  Acreage for other foods and feed grains (particularly for pigs and poultry) was then allocated outside New England.

The Diet tab summarizes the Omnivore’s Delight diet.  It broadly follows USDA MyPlate recommendations for an average person consuming 2300 calories a day, with a few exceptions as detailed in “A New England Food Vision.”  MyPlate allows flexibility within the protein group, and these protein choices help define the Omnivore’s Delight diet: a sharp reduction in beef consumption to what New England pastures could provide, a reduction in pork consumption, and a corresponding increase in beans.  Including seafood from New England’s fisheries makes for some reduction in what must come from the land.  These choices are worked out on the Protein and ProteinCurrent tabs.

The amounts of oils and sugars needed to fill out the 2300 calorie Omnivore’s Delight diet are shown on the Fat and Sugar tabs, and all the calories supplied by the diet are summarized on the Calories tab.

Tabs such as Veg, Fruit, Grain, and Nuts calculate the acreage required to produce these foods for 17 million people.  They do this by taking the daily intake of each food, adjusting it for loss between farm and mouth (shown on the VegCurrent tab) to determine the total yearly production required, and then dividing that by an average yield (shown on the VegY tab) to reach an estimation of the acreage needed.
The Livestock tab makes similar acreage estimates, drawn from calculations of consumption, production, and yields that are shown on the Dairy, Cattle, Lamb, Pigs, Chicken, and Turkey tabs.  These estimates are then pulled through to the Ag Footprint tab.

Omnivore's Delight

Regional Reliance

The Regional Reliance workbook is set up the same way as the Omnivore’s Delight.  There are two major differences, as this is a scenario reflecting a possible future of greater food and energy scarcity.

First, the Diet is adjusted to include less meat and more beans and nuts.  Second, available New England farmland is increased to 7 million acres.
On the Ag Footprint tab, acreage devoted to cropland rises to 4.5 million, while pasture drops to 2.5 million.  New England dairy production is maintained while beef and other meat production declines, and regional production of fruit, beans, and grain increases substantially.

 Regional Reliance

Current

The Current workbook only needs to calculate the acreage requirements of 14.5 million New Englanders’ present food consumption, based on USDA food availability data.  Some categories such as vegetable oils (where many different kinds of oil are consumed) are simplified to make for easier acreage calculations.  This workbook adds an AgCensus tab to provide data from the 2007 US Agriculture Census about how farmland is being utilized and what foods are being produced in New England today.

In brief, these scenarios represent broad estimates given a certain set of assumptions.  They are not meant to be precise, although we have made them as accurate as we can.  Different assumptions about the way New Englanders (on average) may be eating in 2060, how much food is wasted, potential acreage and yields, and different combinations of crops and uses of available farmland could be tried, and would produce different results.

Current Diet