The Diversity of Agriculture

Wagon Wheel {Photo courtesy James Marvin Phelps}

I’m from a large family – four sisters and a brother. We were all raised on my family’s commercial cow-calf ranch in Iowa. We all have big foreheads, bad eyesight, and the type of work ethic the world needs a little bit more of. And yet, we are diverse, and the older we get, the more diverse we become. My oldest sister lives in San Francisco with her husband and two boys. My brother ranches, I work for the pea and lentil kingdom, and my younger sister is interested in bioinformatics. Whatever the heck those things are. The two youngest are still in high school, but I can imagine they’ll branch out and add a few more odd spokes to the wheel. It’s still a wheel though, and we’re still a family.

I view agriculture in the same light. It is an incredibly diverse field with many different nuances. Consider the Pacific Northwest: apples, potatoes, milk, beef, hay, wheat, legumes, cherries, hops, grapes, onions, sugarbeets, all kinds of berries, pears, poultry, Christmas trees, fishing, logging. *whew* Talk about diversity, and that isn’t hardly even close to a comprehensive list!

And then there are the ongoing debates over how an agricultural operation is run. Organic. All-natural. Commercial. Modern “big-ag”. No-till. Conventional. Purebred. Grass-fed. Sustainable. Certified This-That-or-Other. Are these distinctions important? Yes. But do these distinctions need to be divisive? I don’t think so.

There are markets for all these different distinctions, and there needs to be agricultural operations that provide for those markets. My family is a commercial cow-calf operation, but I am also good friends with folks who run purebred cattle ranches, those who run strictly grass-fed/grass-finished herds, and people who provide all-natural and certified beef. I am proud of the top-quality beef my family provides for plates across the world, but I am equally proud of all my fellow beef producers for providing grass-fed, all-natural, certified, purebred, etc., to the markets that demand those products. Every single agricultural operation, regardless of commodity or labeling, has its own particular challenges to face and conquer.

Agriculture is a giant, diverse wheel with many different spokes. Without all those wide variety of spokes, agriculture wouldn’t be much of a wheel. I am proud to be a part of it as well as having the ability to work with and learn from those who are experts in targeted markets different from my own. Different isn’t bad; different is just diverse!


  1. I know the feeling. I have 4 brothers and sisters and not a one of them have plans to be involved in the cattle business or even Agriculture. It still puzzles me how I can have such a strong passion for the work, yet none of them could care less. Diversity for sure.

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