We bought a new furnace for our house this fall. The old one, while still working, was more than 30 years old. So it made sense to bite the bullet and install a new one that is considerably more efficient. The way we figured it, it just made sense to install a newer and more efficient furnace that will use less fuel, cut utility bills and be better for the environment.

A lot of farmers go through a similar calculation as they update their livestock barns, grain bins and other equipment. It just makes sense to upgrade to the new stuff because it is more efficient, uses less energy and is better for the environment. It’s pretty much a no-brainer.

But some people don’t see it that way. They say that farmers, by upgrading their operations, are hurting the environment. Many in the so-called “foodie” movement also contend that modern farming is bad for consumers by restricting choice and causing obesity.

Instead of upgrading, the foodies say American agriculture should turn back the clock. They say that reverting to the farming methods of our grandfathers, or even our great grandfathers, is the way to go. They want to scrap a wide variety of advances, such as climate-controlled livestock barns, genetically-modified crops and GPS-guided equipment.

It only takes a glance to see right through this rose-colored and nostalgic view.

Study after study shows that modern methods are better for the environment. They reduce soil erosion, improve water quality and trim pesticide use. Something else that’s very clear: modern farming helps to protect the world’s fragile lands by producing larger crops on the land already in production.

Today’s agriculture has also been a boon for consumers. The average American household spends less than 10 percent of its disposable income on food, the lowest percentage ever. That leaves Americans with more disposable income for other things. At the same time, there’s never been a more bountiful variety of food available to consumers.

Yes, today’s agriculture, like my new furnace, is more efficient, more productive and easier on the environment than the system it has replaced. Going back to older farming ways would hurt the environment, reduce our food choices and raise food prices. I don’t know about you, but as a no-nonsense Iowan, that’s a lose-lose in my book.

Written by Dirck Steimel
Dirck is the news services manager for Iowa Farm Bureau.