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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: SEMIARID RANGELAND ECOSYSTEMS: THE CONSERVATION-PRODUCTION INTERFACE

Location: Rangeland Resources Research

Title: Commentary: A critical assessment of the policy endorsement for holistic management

Authors
item Briske, David -
item Derner, Justin
item Huntsinger, Lynn -
item Ash, Andrew -

Submitted to: Agricultural Systems
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: December 3, 2013
Publication Date: January 14, 2014
Repository URL: http://handle.nal.usda.gov/10113/58410
Citation: Briske, D.D., Derner, J.D., Huntsinger, L., Ash, A.J. 2014. Commentary: A critical assessment of the policy endorsement for holistic management. Agricultural Systems. 125:50-53.

Interpretive Summary: In response to the recently published paper by Sherren et al. (2012, Agricultural Systems 106:72-83 where the authors endorse holistic management (HM) as a policy recommendation in Australia, we respond with five points for rebuttal. First, the authors did not clearly draw a distinction between HM and the closely associated grazing system of intensive rotational grazing (IRG). Second, IRG represents the most rigorously tested concept in the rangeland profession, with an extensive data set by numerous investigators at multiple geographic locations over a period of 60 years, and these experimental results unequivocally establish that IRG, in the absence of effective adaptive management, does not increase plant or animal production, or improve soil surface hydrology compared to continuous grazing systems. Third, there are several methodological concerns with the manner in which the participant interviews were designed and conducted as the HM and non-HM groups appeared to possess substantial dissimilarities including the HM group being a much younger age and there are suggestions that they were better educated than the non-HM group. Fourth, a number of claims regarding traditional grazing systems were overstated to establish a ‘straw man’ against which to compare HM as many traditional rangeland grazing systems operate extensively without cultural inputs and likely operate with lower costs than IRG systems and less infrastructure (fences, water systems). Fifth, promotion of IRG may result in reduced animal performance and potentially contribute to ecosystem degradation, if livestock are not managed appropriately. In conclusion, we fully appreciate and endorse the emphasis on adaptive management by HM but recommend that the full body of evidence should be consulted when contemplating policy implications regarding HM.

Technical Abstract: Here we rebut the findings of a paper by Sherren et al. (2012, Agricultural Systems 106:72-83) where the authors endorse holistic management (HM) despite the minimal, qualitative data presented in support of this recommendation. We offer five points for rebuttal. 1) It is essential to draw a clear distinction between HM and the closely associated grazing system of intensive rotational grazing (IRG). 2) IRG represents the most rigorously tested concept in the rangeland profession and an extensive data set that has been amassed by numerous investigators at multiple geographic locations over a period of 60 years. Collectively, these experimental results unequivocally establish that IRG, in the absence of effective adaptive management, does not increase plant or animal production, or improve soil surface hydrology compared to continuous grazing systems. 3) There are several methodological concerns with the manner in which the participant interviews were designed and conducted. The participants were divided into HM and non-HM groups for comparison, but the two groups appeared to possess substantial dissimilarities other than whether or not they had HM training. The HM group was of a much younger age and there are suggestions that they were better educated than the non-HM group, yet all of the variation in participant responses was assigned solely to HM training. In addition, the comparisons were made numerically despite the qualitative nature of the study, with much weight given to small differences, and no ability to statistically validate these differences. 4) A number of claims regarding traditional grazing systems were overstated to establish a ‘straw man’ against which to compare HM. Many traditional rangeland grazing systems operate extensively without cultural inputs and likely operate with lower costs than IRG systems and less infrastructure (fences, water systems). 5) Promotion of IRG may result in reduced animal performance and potentially contribute to ecosystem degradation, if livestock are not managed appropriately. These intensive systems concentrate large numbers of animals in small paddocks and it is well established that these high stock densities reduce individual animal production in response to reduced forage quality and quantity. In conclusion, we fully appreciate and endorse the emphasis on adaptive management espoused by HM and that individuals may choose to implement IRG as a means of achieving more effective management outcomes. We recommend that the full body of evidence should be consulted when contemplating policy implications regarding HM.

Last Modified: 7/30/2014
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