Now that we’ve flipped the calendar to a new year - and a new decade, many of us are looking forward to what the 2020s will bring. Personally, I’m jumping into 2020 with more optimism about the future than I’ve felt in a long time.

It’s going to be a tremendous decade of progress, not only for Iowa farmers but for all of us who want to make strides toward protecting our natural resources, improving the quality of our food and providing farm animals with the best care possible.

As we enter the new year, I thought it would be fun to take a peak into the future and predict the positive changes we’re likely to see in Iowa agriculture and on our plates in the “Roaring ‘20s.”

Real meat will be hard to beat. Yes, there’s a lot of press right now about the plant-based proteins that mimic the taste of burgers and chicken nuggets. But in reality, consumer demand for real meat and poultry continues to grow.

Plus, the quality of real meat gets better every year. For example, cattle farmers are producing more Prime grade beef than ever before, to the benefit of us meat lovers.

Iowa farmers remain committed to providing consumers what they demand: safe, high-quality, protein-rich real meat and poultry to feed our active lifestyles.

Conservation goes high-tech. It may sound like science fiction, but researchers are now using LiDAR laser technology (Yes, lasers! How cool is that?) to identify and measure conservation progress in Iowa. Already, more than $6.2 billion worth of conservation practices are in place on Iowa farms and landscapes, according to the LiDAR derived elevation data and aerial imagery.

This first-of-its-kind statewide mapping effort by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Iowa State University provides a benchmark for measuring progress and will help target resources where they are needed most.

In addition, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) has begun an ambitious program to create more wetlands in the state. Wetlands act as sinks that help filter and improve water quality, while also benefiting wildlife diversity.

IDALS currently is working on more than 30 wetlands that are in development. The projects are advancing thanks to $270 million in dedicated water quality funding approved by the Iowa Legislature in 2017 and supported by the Iowa Farm Bureau.

Farm animal care will only get better. Here in Iowa and across the country, livestock farmers are continuing their efforts to provide the best possible care to farm animals.

For example, more than 85 percent of U.S. beef in the United States comes from cattle raised by farmers and ranchers certified by the nationwide Beef Quality Assurance (BQA).

BQA ensures that farmers are following the latest science-based best management practices for raising high-quality, safe and nutritious beef. Pig and dairy farmers, as well as livestock truckers, have adopted similar science-based quality assurance programs.

In addition, farmers are continuing to support the judicious use of antibiotics in livestock farming.

And we are seeing progress. Sales and distribution of medically important antimicrobials for use in food-producing animals has declined 38% since 2009, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Animal health experts predict antibiotic usage will continue to decline as farmers seek alternatives to antibiotics.

Livestock farms will reduce their environmental footprint. Iowa farmers are embracing new technologies and animal-care practices that help further reduce agriculture’s impact on the environment.

Specifically, livestock herd sizes are shrinking in the United States because of improvements in genetics, feed and animal health.

As herd sizes shrink, the environmental footprint of animal agriculture decreases, experts say.

For example, the United States has reduced its dairy cow herd from 25 million cows in the 1960s to 9 million cows today. Yet U.S. dairy farmers are producing 60% more milk than they were 50 years ago. That has shrunk the carbon footprint of the U.S. dairy herd by two-thirds.

Of course, we will see advances in agriculture during next decade and beyond that we can’t even imagine now. It’s an exciting time, and Iowa farmers will play a key role in creating solutions to our world’s challenges.

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is Iowa Farm Bureau's Senior Features Writer.