Introduction to Holistic Management

 Speaker: Andrea Malmberg Director of Research and Knowledge Management at the Savory Institute

Holistic Management is a decision making framework that results in ecologically regenerative, economically viable and socially sound management of the world’s grasslands.

The Savory Institute works with people all over the world in very different contexts.

There is a danger of getting too caught up in using the word ‘production’ instead of talking about the wider view of what we are trying to achieve.

Grasslands range from savannahs, prairies, steppes and pampas but the common denominator is that these environments are seasonally dry and/or cold.

Grasslands are home to around 1 billion people with pastoral traditions and their management of grassland affects everybody. 75% of the world’s grasslands are losing biodiversity and the results are famine, droughts, floods etc. Millions of dollars are spent in trying to deal with these problems.

We find it very difficult to manage complexity. Holistic Management brings simplicity to complexity.

There is a shift in how we approach holistic management but we need to increase scale. We formed a management club with Daniela and her husband (Daniela Ibarra-Howell, Co-Founder and CEO of the SI) in Oregon and we really needed that; we needed a network.

It is also important to document results in a systematic way, not only to prove that methods work but to also help us to make better decisions.

We also need to align the market and inform the consumer.

The presence of large herbivores interacting with the landscape is critical. This sequesters carbon, produces a nutrient-dense soil and results in healthy pasture-raised food.

In many grassland areas we need a mechanism to increase grass production and that mechanism is livestock.

If grass is allowed to decay biologically, this reduces nutrients. In the Forage Growth Curve there is a ‘sweet-spot’ and we need to focus on this.

We are solar farmers!

Holistic management brings us towards sustained profitability.

Andrea told us how she had moved to a land that was in the Conservation Reserve Programme, where no livestock had been present for over 20 years. There was very low biodiversity and it took years to get the insects and other wildlife back.

The aim is to mimic nature.

No two grazing plans are the same. It is a very dynamic process. Andrea showed some examples in Zimbabwe where livestock are continually moved. People have been persuaded to combine herds, which is quite a difficult thing to do. The key is to get the women on board.

Grasslands LLC is an off-shoot of SI that encourages Wall St investment to buy farms which are then run on holistic management principles.

Ranchers in Patagonia (trained by the SI’s Brian Marshall) are now producing wool and selling to fashion designers such as Stella McCartney.

We must make the distinction between livestock and properly managed livestock. Holistic management is simple, but it is not easy!

We cannot manage land alone. We need to also manage people, society, environment, economy.

Often this involves planning backwards but using simple planning processes – how do we get the animals to where we want them?

A 1% increase in soil quality will give is 16,000 gallons of water per acre.

It is important to remember that this is a scalable solution!

At Twin Creek Ranch (Andrea’s former ranch in Wyoming), stocking levels remained high, even through the drought of 1999. The ecological health score increased by 30 points with the adoption of holistic management.

The use of mobile structures such as moveable corrals – see slide.

The goal for the SI is to have over 100 hubs across the world. These will be in very different contexts.

Vitality Farms was announced as the first UK hub.

There are four hubs in Mexico and they have regular meetings with the Ministry of Agriculture.

The SI works with such institutions as the Nature Conservancy Council in the US

There are currently 5 online courses offered with the SI and managers can access land planning tools online.

Although the UK is a less brittle environment, there is still impact on grasslands – degradation occurs even in these wet conditions. If land is not rested adequately, this leads to a reduction in soil quality.

One of the biggest challenges is not being able to accurately represent the benefits. We need to be citizen scientists.

The Patagonian hub has a very strict monitoring process and Richard Teague of Texas A&M is carrying out research; usually looking at specific segments i.e. changes in songbird population etc.


See my review of the Savory Institute Conference 2014 in London here.


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