Thursday, June 24, 2010

Stanford Study Shows Benefits of Modern Agriculture

Our son Jack helps his Grandpa Hastings prepare a field on our farm to plant corn

Last month, I published a blog titled Dairy Farmers – The Original Environmentalists which featured results of two studies proving how dairy farmers have been responsible stewards of the land for generations. I’m excited to tell you about another study that sings the praises of modern agriculture.

A study by a team of Stanford University scientists finds that advances in high-yielding agriculture during the latter part of the 20th century prevented massive amounts of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere – the equivalent of 590 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s right, modern agricultural methods utilizing science and technology are better for the environment than methods used by our grandparents. Sounds like common sense to me.

The scientists concluded that the yield improvements agriculture has seen over the past few decades have reduced the need to convert forests to farmland. If not for increased yields, additional greenhouse gas emissions from clearing land for farming would have been equal to as much as 1/3 of the world’s total output of greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution in 1850.

The researchers calculated that for every dollar spent on agriculture research and development since 1961, emissions of greenhouse gases were reduced by the equivalent of a quarter of a ton of carbon dioxide, which is a high rate of financial return compared to other approaches to reducing the gases.

“Our results dispel the notion that modern intensive agriculture is inherently worse for the environment than a more “old-fashioned” way of doing things,” says Jennifer Burney, lead author of a paper describing the study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Yield intensification has lessened the pressure to clear land and reduced emissions by up to 13 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year. When we look at the costs of the research and development that went into these improvements, we find that funding agricultural research ranks among the cheapest ways to prevent greenhouse gas emissions,” said Steven Davis, co-author and postdoctoral researcher at the Carnegie Institute at Stanford.

The researchers found that without the advances in high-yield agriculture, several billion additional acres of cropland would have been needed. They calculated how much money was spent on research for each ton of avoided emissions by calculating the total amount of agricultural research funding related to yield improvements from 1961 to 2005. That produced a price of $4.00 to $7.50/ton of carbon dioxide that was not emitted.

The study concludes the investment in yield improvements compares favorably with other commonly proposed greenhouse gas mitigation strategies. Further yield improvements should therefore be a top consideration among efforts to reduce future greenhouse gas emissions.

So why is there a group of self-appointed “green” movement activists trying to convince consumers modern agriculture technology is bad and using “simpler” methods employed by farmers 50 years ago is better for the environment? Maybe they have a hidden agenda. We involved in agriculture know that science and technology provide efficiencies needed to feed a growing world-wide population while minimizing the impact on the environment. Now there’s another scientific study that proves it.

Do you think the mainstream media is going to do a story on these findings? This type of positive story about modern agriculture successes won’t likely make the headlines. So help me to spread the word!

Bottom line, if you’re interested in a “green” lifestyle support modern agriculture production by choosing conventionally grown agriculture products.

For more information:
“Greenhouse gas mitigation by agricultural intensification” published by the National Academy of Sciences @


  1. Great post. I'm going to link this to my facebook page. :)

  2. Thanks for another great post! :) I'm also giving you an award over @ my blog, too:


Thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to comment! I’m opening the doors of our farm to share with you and enjoy engaging in discussion. Please be respectful in your comments. I reserve the right to remove posts that include name calling, slander, and vulgar language or contain links to websites that assault animal agriculture.

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