Meantime, most critics of conventional agriculture have ignored, perhaps as "an inconvenient truth," the fact that their predictions that conventional farming practices were unsustainable have proven untrue.
In recent years, conventional agriculture has drastically cut inputs while continuing to increase yields. Total fertilizer use peaked in 1981, total pesticide use in 1973, Paarlberg said.
Technological advances have led to huge reductions in land use, soil erosion, irrigation water, energy and greenhouse gases, he added.
"If only the rest of our economy had done this well, we would have something to be proud of," Paarlberg said.
Two areas where critics of conventional agriculture have scored significant victories are animal agriculture and the use of genetically modified crops for human consumption.
Ballot issues in some states, as well as decisions made by some large customers, have led to changes in how livestock are cared for, and that trend is likely to continue, Paarlberg said. Activists also are making progress in challenging the use of antibiotics in livestock solely for weight gain.
While genetically modified crops are used widely for animal feed and industrial use, they have "been stopped dead in their tracks for human food use," Paarlberg said. Ballot issues to require mandatory labeling of foods containing any genetically modified ingredient failed in Washington and California and passed in Connecticut and Maine.
"Conventional agriculture will be obliged to make concessions," Paarlberg concluded, but "those concessions aren't going to push conventional agriculture away from its preferred model" of highly capitalized, large, science-driven practices.