To do agriculture right means that the ecosystem you are applying to it must benefit and sustain people, planet, animals and community.
Or put another way, it is to look Mother Nature squarely in the eye and not blink.
It means cooperation with, and constant observation of, our natural resources from soil to sky. It is to recognize the intimate and intertwined relationship between humans and nature, and to feel humbled by the vastness inherent in a simple handful of dirt or a blade of grass.
When these conditions are met with laser beam focus, a form of conscious agriculture is achieved.
From her own perspective Cornelius describes it like this: “I look at dirt every day, literally and figuratively. My passion is farming and ranching. I love picking up a handful of dirt to just look at it. It’s in my genes. The fact that I get to work with a company that cares about soil and turns it into something delicious is simply amazing.”
After more than a decade with Niman Ranch and a lifetime of experience in agriculture, Kay Cornelius is perfectly suited for the leadership role at Panorama.
She is dedicated not only in finding ways to sustain independent family ranchers but also in sustaining the grasslands their livestock graze on.
A rancher herself, Cornelius, along with her husband, son and extended family, run Coyote Ridge Herefords, a western range program located on the high plains of Colorado, known for breeding animals with high-quality genetics.
“Everything about our family ranch has to do with the economics of how to produce a great tasting product using the resource of grass. Our cattle are bred to be raised on western range lands—to benefit from the efficiencies of being raised on grass,” says Cornelius.
It’s worth noting that Niman Ranch, along with Panorama Grass-fed Meats, have both now joined the Perdue Premium Meat Company, which acquired Niman in 2015 and Panorama in 2019. These two brands, along with Coleman Natural, Prairie Grove, Sioux-Preme Packing Company, and Alexander and Hornung, together represent Perdue’s sustainable premium meat companies.
Today, Panorama has nearly 50 independent family ranchers who raise U.S.-born cattle across seven states and one million acres of USDA Certified Organic grasslands, making them the nation’s largest producer of 100 percent grass-fed and grass-finished certified organic beef.
What the Perdue Premium Meat Company adds is long-term stability and shared resources that will help the business grow, especially under the experienced leadership of Kay Cornelius.
For Darrell Wood, the rancher who founded Panorama back in 2000, having Kay Cornelius at the helm means having an opportunity to take Panorama to the next level.
A natural born conservationist, Wood is a thoughtful, considerate spokesperson when he imagines the future of the company, “Back when we started there wasn’t any template out there, no guidelines to follow. We were self-financed, and it was just me and a few other ranchers who were still learning the business.”
Over the years, it became clear that in order to sustain the legacy of the ranchers who raise cattle for Panorama, including Wood and his own family’s ranch, more resources were needed.
According to Wood, “We were searching high and low for someone bigger who wanted to diversify their product with ours and had a sales staff in place. We could consolidate all of those resources and keep the price competitive for the consumer. We also needed that to be someone who would value our commitment to humane animal care, traditional ranching practices, and conservation efforts of America’s grasslands, so Perdue was a natural fit for us.”
Wood’s original core values for Panorama—a meat company that produces a product that is healthy for consumers, humane for the cattle, easy on the environment and that protects the legacy of ranchers for future generations are very much in the foreground today.
According to Cornelius, “We looked closely at what was important about Panorama. First its values, which have coalesced around other aspects of the business: organic, non-GMO principles; land stewardship; and making sure those independent ranchers, who are the lifeblood of their rural communities, benefitted from having access to more resources, making them more sustainable. No matter what way future winds may blow, these are the things we’ll remain committed to at Panorama.”
In an industry plagued with challenges and disruption, especially in pandemic-ravaged 2020, Panorama is a lens of truth.
To do this work well means taking a close look at what’s broken and fix it regardless of what it takes to do so.
“The grass-fed category for consumers right now is confusing, it’s just a mess,” says Cornelius, “we need to fix the supply chain. Today, there are companies that can bring in unknown product from outside the country, repackage it here and then label it ‘Product of the USA.’ At Panorama, all of our cattle are of market age, the product is organic and non-GMO, we are completely transparent and that is truly what the consumer wants. We will stay true to producing high-quality beef from ranches managed by farm families. Our biggest opportunities right now are to sell more of the animal and to add new ranches.”
It is often said that we get things by being persistent; we keep them by being consistent.
It’s clear that the legacy of Darrell Wood and his family, along with the other ranchers who raise cattle for Panorama, is alive today in no small part because of their persistence—and where the big picture of what they wanted to accomplish was never lost to the bottom line.
Under the leadership of Kay Cornelius and the resources the Perdue Premium Meat Company adds, it’s clear that legacy will thrive for years to come.
As my conversation with Cornelius begins to wind down, I ask one last question about what inspires her to do the work she does, to spend her life and career working toward an improved, sustainable meat industry?
Cornelius begins with a question of her own, then responds, “Where do I start? I would work for Panorama forever because I believe in supporting independent family farmers and ranchers, because to me, they are the ones who have been left out of the food system. I am a rancher myself and if there’s something important that’s been forgotten, it’s that those farmers and ranchers are the ones keeping an eye on the most important aspects of our food system. They are my inspiration for being in this business. And if I can help give them a way to earn a living, I accept the challenge and it’s going to be very exciting.”