The Des Moines Register's endorsement of Republican agribusinessman Bill Northey for secretary of agriculture indicates where the editorial board thinks Iowa's agricultural future lies.

The endorsement alleges the race between Democratic candidate Denise O'Brien, an Atlantic-area organic farmer, and the Spirit Lake agribusinessman - holder of an MBA - is not about big agri-business versus small family farm.

The editorial board must have been swayed by the Northey campaign's slick television commercials and well-designed Web site, largely funded with generous contributions from some of the Iowa Republican Party's heavy hitters.

Denise O'Brien, on the other hand, is truly an old-fashioned, Iowa grassroots, meet-the-people type of candidate, which the Register editorial staff waxes poetic about but rarely endorses. No slick television spots and only a free Web site. Nor is O'Brien's name listed on The Institute of Money in State Politics' Web site.

This contest presents the voters with a choice between expanding big agri-business or promoting family farming. It is a choice between expanding hog factories, greater reliance on monoculture row crops and further environmental degradation, or traditional Iowa values and clean land, water and skies.

In endorsing Bill Northey primarily because of his promotion of the ethanol industry in Iowa, the Register has fallen into the old, one-solution, bigger-is-better trap that has plagued the state's agriculture for decades.

Yes, we need renewable fuels, including ethanol. Yes, Iowa could be a leader in energy independence. But we must stay diverse in our approach. We must not put all our energy eggs in the ethanol basket, to the detriment of sustainable farmers and our environment. And we must build on conservation to secure our energy future.

Denise O'Brien knows diversity and she knows conservation. And her consensus-building can embrace not only ethanol, but a host of other renewable, alternative and conservation options that can benefit both rural and urban residents.

You described Northey and his opponent, Denise O'Brien, as having some similar ideas, but the fact is that the two candidates are direct opposites. Northey is a supporter of big-business agriculture, which has led to the demise of the family farm. O'Brien comes from a family-farm background and supports the idea of organic agriculture and locally produced fresh food. She believes Iowa's farming methods should not pollute streams and foul our air.

Northey supports the kind of agriculture that has moved farming away from diversity and toward concentrated animal-feeding operations and mono-crop farming.

The future of Iowa agriculture depends on visionary leadership and a new direction, not the status quo. Denise O'Brien will give us that leadership.

The Register's endorsement of Bill Northey for Iowa secretary of agriculture was a Monday-morning bummer. There is going to be a lot of money in bioenergy, so let it rip. For this we need a secretary of agriculture?

Who is going to make the big money? What about the environment? What about the quality of rural life? What about young farmers? Is there a food policy anywhere? Is there even an energy policy on the table?

Denise O'Brien has spent decades studying and working on multiple facets of agriculture and rural life. She knows the issues and how to address them.

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