Reproduced here with kind permission form the editor of Queensland Smart Farmer
Published in June / July 2006 issue
Taking a holistic approach in managing your land and working with nature can prove profitable, discovers Fiona Cameron …
What if you could use nature to fix nature—and make a profit along the way? It sounds too good to be true in an environment where the ever increasing pressure of climate change and sustainability is weighing on people’s minds.
But one approach to land management that is gaining momentum suggests that once land has become degraded, leaving it alone rarely helps revitalise it. In fact, more human understanding and animal input, not less, is needed to restore biodiversity and increase efficiency and profitability. It’s even possible to achieve what is often portrayed as a contradictory notion—that of making money from the land while actually doing it some good.
Holistic management is an approach to decision making and management developed by Allan Savory from field work conducted in South Africa and America, which considers humans, their economies and the environment as inseparable. It enables people to make decisions that simultaneously consider short-term and long-term, social and economic realities. In this way, the underlying knowledge of how nature functions can be used to solve the root cause of the environmental problems around the farm.
Holistic management educator Helen Lewis runs Inside Outside Management with business partner Brian Wehlburg and consults throughout Queensland on the benefits of this approach, not only in land management but business as well.
Helen’s interest in holistic management began in 1998, when she attended a workshop on the subject. “Holistic management answered major questions I had about making good policy, helping large and diverse groups make decisions, and land management,” Helen (pictured) says. It’s an approach that has complimented her work as a Landcare officer in the Warwick district, and one she and her husband, Ian, have previously used on the family property west of Warwick.
Both Brian and Helen are certified educators by Holistic Management International, Albuquerque, US.
“It gives us a better understanding of how nature works, so that we can work with nature to fix nature. Land management issues like weeds are just a symptom. Holistic management allows you to peel back the layers of the onion and find the root cause of those problems,” Helen says.
“Anyone who is really interested in rejuvenating their environment and balancing social harmony, profitability and the environment can get something from this approach. It can be used outside the farm as well because it’s a decision-making process.”
The first step in working towards rejuvenating your property is observing and assessing its current state. There are signs that indicate poor ecosystem processes. A reduction in pasture species, erosion, woody vegetation regrowth after fire, bare ground, and a reduction in moisture are all signs that energy flow, biodiversity, water cycles and mineral cycles are performing poorly.
The reverse is a highly functional ecosystem, which possesses a great diversity of animal and plant species. These concepts are linked back to planned grazing methods which can be used over time to improve ecosystem processes and regenerate the land.
“Anyone at all can get into this but there are some intricacies involved with understanding nature so that you can sustain it.” Helen says.
“The purpose of planned grazing is to prepare your land for the spring during winter and build the volume of grass during spring and summer for the next winter. If you’re trying to implement cell-grazing without training it’s concerning because there’s more to it than just putting up fences and moving animals around. If you are not doing it properly you run the risk of doing more harm than good and possibly running out of feed in winter, rather than achieving the aim of having more.”
Helen says the first important step is to work out what you want your property to look like in the future. “Write a detailed description and substantial land plan for the sort of landscape you want to live in. “
The next step is to look at your property and assess factors like the amount of bare ground, and the diversity, or lack of diversity, of pasture species. “It’s amazing how much bare ground there is out there but in hinterland and coastal areas there is less tendency towards bare ground so the issues relate more to lack of diversity of species. Planned grazing can be used in these areas to create conditions where more species can grow, by allowing adequate recovery periods for new seedlings to germinate so that stock aren’t eating an area out species by species."
Assessing these factors is a good guide for what is happening on your property and a reflection of your management practices. A planned grazing approach can be adopted anywhere, even on small properties, which can be divided into miniature paddocks to increase stock density.
“It’s exciting that there is a whole new chapter there on how we can work with nature to fix nature and improve landscapes and profitability at the same time,” Helen says.