Grazing Naturally, by Dick Richardson, with Remarks by Allan Savory
“Holistic Management International (HMI) published the article below by Dick Richardson, describing a better grazing system. I asked Allan Savory, HMI’s founder, what he thought of it.
Dick Richardson’s article, and Allan Savory’s response, appear below.
Allan Savory on Dick Richardson’s Article
April 9, 2021
Sorry for delay but I needed time to read the HMI article by Dick Richardson carefully. You asked my opinion and, in brief, the answer is that it is useless. I am guessing that having studied the holistic planned grazing process yourself and responded to many academic critics (CLICK), you likely agree that is unusable. Nonetheless, thank you for alerting me to it.
Richardson outlines his basic premise in the opening paragraph when he writes:
“Holistic planned grazing was originally developed based on the old science that soils build from the top down and building masses of soil surface litter is the secret to soil health. However we now know this is not true. Soil is built by biological activity living off root exudate from green actively growing plants.”
- I did not develop the grazing planning process on “old science,” but on Voisin’s discovery that some type of planning process had to replace grazing systems.
- He also says (and I am paraphrasing) that avoiding overgrazing plants at any time results in diminishing plant growth, stagnation in biological activity, less soil development and poorer feed quality for livestock. In my experience, this is not the case and the statements are wrong.
- His assertions that soil development from the surface is old science and it occurs below the surface conflicts with basic ecological knowledge. To wit, the earliest plants such as algae and lichens that colonize and start the process of soil development do so at the surface not underground. Water, oxygen and carbon (from plants)—essentially energy—moves into the soil from the surface.
- If Richardson seriously claims soils developing from the surface is old science and wrong, I would love to see him try developing soil from rock, sand or clay (as soils do) by starting inside the rock, sand or clay!
- While Richardson implies that through my writing and teaching I’ve suggested that “building masses of soil surface litter is the secret to soil health”, neither that nor any other “prescription” will be found in my textbook on Holistic Management, in my talks or in any source of information that can be directly traced to me.
This article is particularly disappointing. In his own cited reference (“Grasslands by Richard Teague et al 2009 describes Venter and Drewers’ grazing system…), Richardson identifies this multi-paddock/zone method as a grazing system. Unfortunately, for more than 60 years, we’ve known that no rotational, mob, multi-paddock, adaptive or any grazing system can ever reverse desertification and biodiversity loss.
As you know, no business can be successfully managed by applying a management “system” (i.e. a series of actions based on pre-determined formulas), even though within all businesses it is advisable to use such management systems in areas where things are predictable, as in accounting and inventory control. This is especially true with agriculture – the production of food and fibre from the world’s land and waters – including ranching.
What Richardson is advocating is typical reductionist management, which bears little relationship to Holistic Management and fails to achieve the purpose for which I founded HMI at the request of far-sighted people in the USDA. The Holistic Management framework and its holistic planned grazing process covers every concern—including social and economic—on any farm, ranch, pastoral area. Frankly I cannot see Richardson’s paddock-and-zone system ever reversing desertification and addressing mega-fires as Australia needs to do.
Gradually I am trying to simplify Holistic Management to make it even more understandable and accessible to all people. If we are ever to address the cause of global desertification, mega-fires and climate change, it is vital that management becomes holistic instead of reductionist. As you will have seen in my recent talks almost all scientists acknowledge (unknowingly) that management particularly at scale through policy, is the sole cause of man-made climate change.
Here, for your information, is my talk presented two days ago in Australia at the Savory Institute hub (CLICK).
As you know from your own experience with Holistic Management, we humans only manage three things: humans/organizations, nature and economies. We don’t make or produce these things; we manage them. Everything else we do involves making or producing things from resources found in nature, be it food, fibre, electricity, music, space crafts, cities or any other of our myriad human endeavors. While many people wrongly assume we manage these enterprises, we do not. Instead we are managing the economies and natural resources (nature) from which everything that sustains civilizations is produced. This article, which is about managing subsurface soil through an elaborate grazing system, ignores this truth.
Hope you and your family are staying safe.