Economic Impact of OpenFarmTech
At present, we have prototypes of an open source tractor and a high performance Compressed Earth Block Press. The documentation for both is here: LifeTrac and CEB_Press. The documentation at present is sketchy, but full design documentation will be made available as we near official product release. Quick highlights of economics are:
- CEB press appears to be 5 times lower in cost than the competition, and larger models appear to be about 10 times less
- Base tractor is about 3 times lower in cost than a comparable commercial counterpart, and about 10 times lower in cost when flexible implements are considered
- Lifetrac with PTO generator, loader, backhoe, hydraulic swingblade sawmill, well-drilling rig, auger, rototiller, tree planter, cement mixer, stump grinder, winch, hammer mill, hay equipment, baler, agricultural combine, mower - will be about $14k total in materials - compared to $160k for comparable functionality off the shelf
- The above is achieved by using interchangeable parts and hydraulic motors, which constitute a life-size erector set or Lego block set for real technology
- Maintenance for the tractor - LifeTrac is designed to have about $200 per year operating and capital replacement costs, as opposed to $2000 for a comparable tractor.
Ramifications of the above are that a small, integrated, organic farmer, agroecologist, permaculturist, or other land stewart can maintain a full, integrated operation without prohibitive equipment costs. Startup is impossible without reliable equipment - we have tried - and gotten to the point of building LifeTrac. LifeTrac is a post-industrial tractor, and we know from experience that we would not be able to reach our agroecological goals with industrial equipment - specialized, design-for-failure machines.
That's just for the food production area, and housing with the CEB press and Sawmill. Add the Solar Power Generator, Open Source Fab Lab, Open Source Agroecology, Pyrolysis Oil biofuel, and others, and you have a largely autonomous community that can focus beyond mere survival and onto a better world for all.
Now Here's the Good Part: Closing the Industrial Divide
The beautiful part of this work is that once metal casting, open source multimachine, and CNC XYZ torch cutting table are implemented - it will be feasible to build the tractor/implements/CEB infrastructure at the cost of scrap steel, if open design is available.
This means that a person in both the industrialized world, and the developing world, will be able to build high-appropriate technology devices. This is a program for technological leapfrogging, distributive economics, and closing of the industrial divide between the haves and have-nots.
Fabrication Facility Costs
We have already estimated that the startup cost for a 4-CEB press per week capacity facility will be about $5-10k in materials. http://blog.opensourceecology.org/?p=187 shows that the operating expenses of this facility will be about $500/year.
In the Closing of the Industrial Divide scenario, the costs may be even lower. Now we're experimenting and documenting actual costs.
The post-industrial economy requires high skill on the part of the worker. However, we believe that such skills are readily learned - just like mechanics, machinists, carpenters, and others learn similar skills. The skill set is more integrated, and needs to be taught from an earlier age. But, it's not more difficult - indeed, it is much easier than the specialized techniques widely in use today.
Case Example: LifeTrac
We have to step up a program for LifeTrac. Right now, there is no concrete product release plan. However, the potential for a low-cost, high-performance tractor with unbeatable versatility can be a huge hit. We are currently considering going to the level of steel melting to obtain structural members and other components - plus casting of steam engines for 100% locally produced tractor. This has transformative potential, especially if we can demonstrate burning of pyrolysis oil - in the external combustion steam engine - so we are fueled locally from on-site biomass.
This is what we're looking at. A serious proposal around that would be worthwhile.