Allan Savory: Myth And Reality
Allan Savory is an advocate for the livestock management system known as, Holistic Management (HM). He is a former member of the Rhodesian Parliament (now Zimbabwe) and has made his living as a consultant with the Savory Institute. He is best known for his recent appearance as a TED speaker where he made a number of controversial statements that he has been advocating for decades, as well as some new claims. His most recent assertion is the idea that more livestock grazing may be the solution to global warming.
In short, Savory’s basic theme is a variation on what has been called “short duration grazing” or “mob grazing”. Under such scenarios livestock, typically cattle are tightly herded through a confined pasture (small pastures) or rangeland so that the animals cannot be selective in their choice of food. Then the livestock are moved rapidly on to the next grazing area, and the previously grazed area is rested from livestock for an extended period of time, so the plants can recover and regrow. Savory’s advocacy for monitoring and careful attention to livestock plant utilization is consistent with well-established range management principles.
However, many of his observations about animal behavior, plant ecology, evolutionary history and carbon storage are well outside the accepted scientific consensus. And these ideas can lead to damaged ecosystems and in the case of his ideas about livestock and global warming may actually be counterproductive—leading to greater GHG emissions if implemented according to his ideas.
As with everything in science, there are few absolutes. There is great variation in land productivity, climate, and the experience of ranchers and farmers who are managing livestock that can affect outcomes. One may experience or hear about examples where Savory’s prescriptions appear to be valid, but as stated below they are usually isolated exceptions. Exceptions do not invalidate the rule.
The few scientific experiments that Savory supporters cite as vindication of his methods (out of hundreds that refute his assertions), often fail to actually test his theories. Several of the studies cited on HM web site had utilization levels (degree of vegetation removed) well below the level that Savory actually recommends.
The following are among Savory’s most debatable ideas that a majority of scientists and observers believe are contrary to standard rational understanding and observation.
MYTH: Livestock grazing can reduce Green House Gases and reduce global warming.
REALITY: One of Savory most recent claims is that grazing will stimulate the translocation of carbon from the atmosphere to the roots of plants, thus increasing domestic livestock numbers and grazing, Savory asserts, will significantly reduce global GHGs. While it is true that significant amounts of carbon are stored in the soils of rangelands, the ability to capture and transfer additional atmospheric carbon to grassland soils is very limited. Most arid grasslands have low productivity, thus low ability to store new sources of carbon.
Furthermore, a full GHG accounting would demonstrate that domestic livestock are among the largest source of global GHG. Methane emissions from domestic livestock, particularly cattle, are considered one of the largest sources of global GHG. Livestock also emit nitrous oxide that is even more potent as a greenhouse gas. Together these emissions are considered by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization to be responsible for up to 18% of global GHG.
Even worse much of the livestock pasture around the world has been created and continues to be created by the destruction of forests which results in the release of even more carbon into the atmosphere. The replacement of forests with grass pasture thus increases overall carbon emissions. According to a recent review by World Watch Institute utilizing this full accounting system livestock production may be responsible for as much as 50% of all global GHG. Thus a reduction of domestic livestock numbers would go much further towards reduction of global atmospheric carbon than any small amount of carbon which might be sequestrated as a result of growth from grasses related to livestock grazing.
MYTH: Holistic Management is superior to other grazing management strategies.
Reality: Due to particular unique aspects of a livestock operation, HM methods may produce better results than other livestock management methods for that specific operation. However, in side by side comparisons with other grazing methods, if EQUAL attention to forage utilization and timing is followed HM methods have not been shown to be superior. And in many other situations HM has resulted in poorer condition livestock and damage to the land resources.
The qualifier is that equal attention to forage utilization and timing is important because much of the success reported for HM has to do with a significant change in livestock producer effort as well as capital investment in more range developments like watering troughs and fencing that, along with intensive monitoring, resulted in better animal distribution. These results are often compared to past lack luster management whereby livestock were left to forage with little supervision. This frequently resulted in overgrazing in some areas, while other parts of the pasture, ranch or farm were barely utilized.
However, it is important to note, efficient cropping of forage by HM methods is not necessarily an improvement for wildlife and plants, soils, water quality, and other values since intensive grazing has many negative effects on these ecosystem values. For many species the lightly grazed areas on the ranch or farm were/are places where wildlife find/found refugia and suitable habitat. Many beneficial insects, pollinators, and larger wildlife such as reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals benefit from the lightly grazed areas and can be critical for ecosystem functioning.
MYTH: Savory’s intensive grazing management strategies have led to greater livestock production and economic gains for ranchers and are a panacea for declining ranch/farm bottom line.
REALITY: Many ranchers cannot or are not able to adopt Savory’s intensive grazing management. First, the intensive management required by HM methods to be successful often requires significant investment in fencing, water development and other infrastructure. It also requires diligent attention to livestock grazing effects and movement. This kind of diligence and attention is often difficult for ranchers and farmers to implement due to economic and/or human constraints. Other limitations to the success of HM techniques are climate and terrain. HM works best in flat terrain where livestock impacts can more equally be distributed and where adequate moisture exists for plant regrowth.
MYTH: Most rangelands suffer from “overrest” not overgrazing.
REALTY: Overgrazing is the cumulative effect of multiple cropping of plants that leads to a decline in plant energy reserves, reduction in root mass, seed production/reproductive effort, and is often accompanied by soil erosion and overall changes in plant composition on a site. In the absence of livestock grazing, plants recover energy reserves, seed and reproductive effort typically improves and soil erosion is reduced. There are no documented examples of “overrest”.
MYTH: In the absence of livestock grazing, plants become moribund and die.
REALITY: There is ample evidence that plants do not require livestock grazing to remain viable. First, there are few places on Earth where plants are not “grazed” or “browsed” by natural herbivores including larger native mammals like bison, wildebeest or guanaco to small animals like ground squirrels and grass hoppers. So plants do not “need” livestock to thrive and on public lands at least we can and should promote native herbivores over exotic domestic livestock.
Secondly, one can easily refuse this statement by visiting any number of natural areas that lack livestock and nevertheless have thriving grassland/rangeland ecosystems. Most National Parks do not permit livestock grazing. And there are literally tens of thousands of small and large grass covered landscapes that for one reason or another naturally exclude livestock like isolated buttes, cliffs, gorges, mesa, plateaus, and even rail and highway right of ways.
MYTH: Hoof action increases water infiltration and helps to plant seeds.
REALITY: Nearly all studies (dozens or hundreds) that have reviewed the effect of hooves on soil infiltration have shown that a thousand pound cow compacts soil, reducing the space between soil particles and thus reducing water penetration and increasing water runoff.
Seeds do not require hoof action to germinate. The plants in rangelands have many different adaptations to ensure adequate recruitment without “hoof action.” Some seeds are attractive to seed eating species like some birds, voles, even ants that carry seeds to their burrows or new locations and help distribute and plant the seeds. Other plants have special adaptations like needle grass which “drills” itself into the ground to ensure successful germination.
MYTH: Biocrusts capping soil surface inhibits plant growth, preventing seeds from penetrating the soil and water from soaking into the ground. Biocrusts need to be broken up by hoof action.
REALITY: Biocrusts are common throughout grassland ecosystems around the world. They are particularly common in arid landscapes where they play a critical role in ecosystem health and function. Biocrusts cover the soil between the spaces in bunchgrass communities (bunchgrasses are common in arid landscapes) keep other plants from germinating and competing for nutrients and water. Biocrusts can decrease the germination of large seeded annual grasses that are degrading grasslands and increasing fire frequency in grasslands and steppe habitats. While inhibiting annual grasses the biocrusts help the perennial grass species thrive.
MYTH: Livestock, particularly cattle, can be managed so as to emulate native species that may no longer graze grasslands.
REALITY: The notion that livestock can replace or emulate the native grazers that may have inhabited a region prior to conversion to domestication. Nearly all plant communities have multiple herbivores that chomp, chew, and graze upon their leaves, stems and even roots. This includes everything from nematodes in the soil that “graze” on roots to grasshoppers, ground squirrels, birds like geese to larger mammals like deer, elk and bison. However, funneling above ground biomass (leaves, stems, etc.) into a single animal like a cow simplifies energy flow in the ecosystem. It can also result in uneven herbivory on plants since the natural collection of animals all graze different plants, different parts of plants at different times and seasons than the single herbivore effects of one or two kinds of domestic animals.
MYTH: Domestic animals like cattle are merely replacing herds of native species like bison that once roamed grasslands.
REALITY: There are substantial evolutionary differences between domestic animals like cattle and native species like bison. Bison naturally move more frequently than cattle. They are better at defending themselves against native predators. They can exist on lower quality forage than cattle.
Furthermore, most of the American West did not have large grazing herds of bison and/or other large mammals. For instance, bison were largely absent or found in very small numbers west of the Continental Divide. Most of the Great Basin of what is now Nevada, western Utah, southern Idaho, southeast Oregon historically did not have large herds of grazing animals, nor did Arizona, much of California, Oregon and Washington.
MYTH: Domestic animals like cattle merely replaced extinct native herbivores that once roamed the western United States.
REALITY: Sometimes Savory advocates will admit that historically large herds of bison, elk and other grazing mammals were absent from much of the West. But they argue that cattle are merely replacing Ice Age herbivores like giant sloth and ancient bison that are now extinct.This ignores the fact that grasslands have not remained static since the last Ice Age. Indeed, in the absence of large herbivores, western grasslands have evolved in response to climate variation, and changing evolutionary pressures. The absence of large grazing mammals permitted plants with a low tolerance for grazing pressure to occupy much of the arid West. These plants invested energy in developing extensive root systems and other mechanisms to survive in arid environments but have few adaptations that permit them to survive grazing by large mammals.
MYTH: Plants need to be grazed and benefit from livestock grazing.
REALITY: Savory mixed up compensation with need and an economic value with a biological one. The grazing of a plant harms the plant, especially if the cropping occurs during the growing season. Plants can compensate for this loss but often do so at a cost to their overall fitness. Grazing the top of a grass means that the bottom or root of the plant will compensate for it but only with a loss of capital and root mass, weakening the plant that now needs rest from grazing.
The loss of photosynthetic material (leaves) by grazing causes a plant to respond by translocation of energy from roots or other parts of the plant to build new leaf material—assuming there is sufficient moisture, nutrients and other critical elements available to recover from the grazing event.
Thus cropping may result in greater overall biomass production as plants seek to compensate for their loss of leaf material. However, the production of more above-ground biomass is often done at the expense of other important plant material including a reduction in root growth, loss of reproductive effort (the plants expends energy on leaf production instead of seed production), and so forth. It is hardly a “benefit.”
To characterize compensation from a harmful event as a need is analogous to suggesting that shooting and poisoning of coyotes is a “benefit” to coyotes because they compensate for these losses by producing additional pups.
– – – – – –
More on the critique of Savory. By Ralph Maughan. 11/16/13
Since Allan Savory’s TED talk earlier this year, there have been many critiques that have criticized almost all aspects of it. I wrote one of the first and I was pleased that quite a few web sites linked to it. Alan Savory gives a popular and very misleading TED talk. By Ralph Maughan. The Wildlife News. March 8, 2013. A few days latter came, “Cows Against Climate Change: The Dodgy Science Behind the TED Talk.” By Adam Merberg. Merberg criticized the lack of documented success of Savory’s proposed methods. In April James McWilliams wrote a shorter, similar critique of the lack of success and the inability to generalize Savory’s Rhodesian experience to grazing in arid lands around the world. See “All Sizzle and No Steak. Why Allan Savory’s TED talk about how cattle can reverse global warming is dead wrong.” By James McWilliams.
There were many more. Do a web search. Most recently, in addition to Wuerthner, is “If Only… Grazed Grasslands Could Sop Up All Industrial CO2.” By Andrew C. Revkin. Dot Earth in the New York Times. Nov. 6, 2013. Revkin calls it “wishful thinking” even if his method did work to sequester carbon. What needs to be done is to conserve previously stored soil carbon in rangelands. Revkin relied in part on the article by Jason West and David Briske “Cows, Carbon and the Anthropocene: Commentary on Savory TED Video” in Real Climate a few days earlier. The Real Climate article is also interesting because that site attracts many relatively sophisticated comments to its articles.
Unfortunately, Savory was very popular in the social media, and some people and groups who hate industrial beef production really warmed to the idea that we could have our beef and climate too with benign grass fed beef produced under Savory’s method.
George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology
20 Responses to Allan Savory: Myth And Reality
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A Biblical plague of cattle comes to mind when visualizing Savory’s ” mob grazing” herding methodology.
Here in northwest Wyoming about 20 years ago, the (Un)Wise Use and Sagebrush Rebellion folks worshipped Savory so much they shoulda built a temple to him. But the Holy went out of his holistic method in practice. The land is just to fragile and arid to take that much clobbering by cattle.
A least it got people talking about changing their herding patterns from the ” turn ’em loose in the Spring and round ’em up in the Fall” plan to something resembling real 24/7/365 animal husbandry.
The whole philosophy just seems rather…
Thank you, George Wuerthner, for writing this piece. As a plant ecologist, I am not at all a fan of Savory’s preachings.
Thanks for going through it piece by piece. I keep hearing more and more about Savory, even from conservation organizations that are prescribing his methods to ranchers!
This is the type of pasture management system recommended by agricultural schools in the East to increase productivity of pasture land. it involves serial exclosures, and is based on science intended to be applied rather than science that exists largely on the theoretical level. Furthermore, the results can be easily documented with a camera photographing the same defined area of land from the same angles and comparing the natural process of land healing itself through rest. There are a couple of different approaches to resting land either by alternating species that graze different grasses or using multiple species on the same land and then resting the area of land completely.
I won’t speak to the humid East, but Savory almost always (maybe always?) talks about his prescription (short heavy grazing) for semi arid or arid lands.
I became familiar with his work through his efforts to save the wild burros in Texas. I have been following issues related to the federal governments failure to reverse its false claims that the horse and burro are non-native species, false claims about the the set of circumstances that led to their disappearance in North America—which shamefully reveals a total lack of understanding about what is known about the influence of prehistoric climate changes that led the horse to migrate to refugia during climate extremes (perhaps for thousands of years), but te horse always returned to North America. No one seems to understand the climate changes that happened after the last major glaciation. Ancient plant spore DNA has also been recovered from the sediments and a great deal is actually know about the types of plants and animals that were living during the unusually warm period during which the large mammals of North America that had not already migrated to refugia before the Berigia area was covered. No one even has a concept of the geological and paleoanthropological concepts that should inform us much more that our climate changes dramatically every 100,000 years or so. All species eventually become extinct. Mchael Crichton’s Jurassic Park was based on a great deal of scientific evidence. How can anyone visit a natural history museum and look at the fossils without understanding that humans are not in control of climate change.
Rather than eradicating the horse through the scientifically fraudulent claim that the horse that was here 7,600 years ago was not the modern horse. Humans may have had little to do with the development of breeds based on the understanding that different locations on the horse’s DNA control species specific traits while other locations on horse DNA control phenotypical traits. The science suggests that the traits that eventually appear are present in the DNA all along, but their appearance may be triggered by environmental factors.
Evidence suggest that human beings have been breeding horses and possible other species based on the false belief that the male is more important than the female. The female is the only parent that passes on her mitoconfrial DNA and theefore, diversity of the female blood lines, are more important in population biology than iversity of males in terms of the genetic diversity of the horse. This is exactly the way that horses naturally organize themselves. Rather than eradicating them under false presences, one of the most valuable things humans could do is to study them closely because theyknow how to adapt to climate chance usually through migration, but also through genetic signals triggered by the environment.
I understand how science that is not based on observable and quantifiable evidence has entered federal policies by following the careers of the people who have put it there. I truly love nature and spend time outdoors—a lot of it on pasture land. I take classes to try to understand what I do not know and network with those whose understanding is greater than my own. I find the disconnect between what is easily observable and can be found in some scientific literature by scientists spending years conducting research in the same areas, being reviewed, doing moe research.
We have confused non-fiction writing with science based on scientific method.
I am furious with the way federal land managers are destroying federal land through failing to employ sound management. In fact, their unscientific management of federal lands is endangering all human, animal, and plant life.
I always check for authors, publication dates, publication titles, and sources. If I return to the source and the source does not have the evidence attributed to it, or the source itself has no evidence, I do not consider this science and I would not let my middle school students get a pass on this. Yet, this is exactly what our government has been doing.
Mob grazing can be a great tool for graziers, given the right conditions. I can’t imagine it working well in the arid west, and it’s not possible on open range.
It’s extremely labor-intensive, especially during calving. One of the ancillary benefits for producers here in the WGL is that it appears to eliminate depredation, due to the near-constant human presence.
I had a chance to hear Savory in person in Wyoming several years ago. Right away, the crowd and I understood that he was talking about little hobby herds (40 to 100 cows) and not the “cows to the horizon” herds typical of Wyoming or basically anywhere else in the west. It was clear that many of the ranchers in the room thought that this could be a viable solution to overgrazing. Savory talked of the need for ranchers to continue to be good stewards of the land they loved and that this was a way to protect their vanishing way of life. He really laid it on thick. There were a few ranchers who questioned their ability to apply this on a large scale and wondered how much it would cost them. But most sucked it up as well as a Sunday sermon. I’ve seen the affects of his “micro-grazing” applied to large herds and it looks more like a Blitzkrieg rather than “maintaining range health”.
In principle, the movie “Open Range” with Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall; would the free grazing they were practicing be fairly representative of Savory’s model?
IT, I think this would be a fair estimation of Savory’s arguments, which originated in his observations of the vast grazing lands of Africa which hosted natural migrations of massive numbers of hooved mammals.
Our historic open range was, however, intensively grazed by INVASIVE INTRODUCED cattle and sheep. One study I read recently mentioned 26 million sheep were roaming our public lands in those days, nearly one per each of our approx. 30 million acres of remaining public lands. Add in cattle, range wars, and homesteaders and the resulting volatile mix altered our western ecosystems possibly forever.
Another difference with Savory’s model is the drovers more or less followed the cattle and sheep, who moved along towards water and better feed as they found it. It was not controlled by any plan other than grabbing as much grass as possible before shipping the herds out by rail to feed the east coast population (among others). Denver, for one example, hosted a regional stockyards alongside the railroad for this purpose. Most of it is still there.
In our time, it has to be considered as well that Savory’s original model explained migrations and results from naturally-selected herds in their native environs, with an intact array of predators. Our open range history was quite different in that it transplanted enormous herds into areas they did not evolve in… as witnessed by massive cattle die offs in blizzards, for example, and an incessant urge from livestock tenders to kill any predator on sight. These truths remain topical.
I have yet to find any studies quantifying the systemic costs of mining and exporting grass (in the form of flesh) outside the originating ecosystems.
“…would the free grazing they were practicing be fairly representative of Savory’s model?”
I didn’t see the film, but mob grazing requires lots of fence, and works best with long growing seasons and abundant rainfall. I don’t know what Hoofhugs is talking about in terms of alternating species, but it’s not mob grazing.
It requires a lot of fence but not necessarily permanent fence. In most situations a single strand of polywire moved regularly is sufficient and allows this to be done with success on a large scale, not just the small herds mentioned above. Keep in mind that the majority of the skepticism comes from those with no firsthand experience. As a rancher in the semi-arid, high elevation, short growing season west I can tell you that it works wonders when managed correctly. Works wonders for the native species as well as the domestic. I don’t make this claim because of an article I read or an opinion I heard or a video I watched. I make this claim because as I write this I can look out the window and see the amazing effect that this management system continues to have on the thousands of acres of western Montana that currently surround me.
🙂 Jroo! Glad to see your thoughts here.
Jroo – would be interested in your thoughts on this:
You can get my contact info via webmaster if you want to reach me directly.
Funny I had just read this when an interview with Mr. Savory came over the radio. I’m on the fence about his work (some pro, some con in my ranching community) and have his book here waiting to read over the holidays. I thought I’d post his answer to his critics here as part of the discussion. -N
**THE VIEWS EXPRESSED DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT MY OWN**
RAZ: And so basically individualized field-specific diet plans for cows or sheep or goats – all livestock, really. It has been challenged. Your science has been challenged, right? And the researchers have looked at the data.
SAVORY: No, it hasn’t. No, they are challenging what I’m not saying.
RAZ: What do you think they’re challenging?
SAVORY: I am saying you must have no prescribed grazing rotation or system. You have to use a holistic planning process, OK? And no scientist has challenged that. What they’ve done is dropped that, converted it to a rotational grazing, short-duration grazing system and proved it doesn’t work. Well, I said that 50 years ago.
RAZ: Allan’s tested his method out on more than 40 million acres across five continents, including in a place in Africa where, across a stretch of field, he could compare his results to land where the livestock grazed in a more conventional way.
(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)
SAVORY: This is land close to land that we manage in Zimbabwe. It has just come through four months of very good rains it got that year. All of that rain, almost all of it, has evaporated from the soil surface. Their river is dry, despite the rain just having ended, OK? And we have a 150,000 people on almost permanent food aid. Now let’s go to our land nearby on the same day with the same rainfall and look at that. Our river is flowing and healthy and clean. It’s fine. The production of grass, shrubs, trees, wildlife, everything is now more productive. And we have virtually no fear of dry years. And we did that by increasing the cattle and goats 400 percent, planning the grazing to mimic nature and integrate them with all the elephants, buffalo, giraffes and other animals that we have.
RAZ: Now this method, again, even though it did work, it made a lot of people very, very angry. When people say, like even people who you respect, they say, this is insane. This is crazy. I mean, a part of you gets that. Like, you understand why they would react that way.
SAVORY: Absolutely, ’cause it’s how I reacted. I hated livestock. I was on public record in Rhodesia of saying I was performed to shoot any [bleep] rancher because they were raping the land that I was trying to save. I had to back down. I had to apologize. I had to say I was wrong. And I had to start working with ranchers and find out that the only solution was their livestock. So I understand all the shock.
MYTH: Pulling in off-topic bits of scientific sounding trivia is a useful debating device when trying to argue against someone with decades of solid results in his back pocket.
REALITY: The implementation of Holistic Management (formerly Holistic Resource Management) has worked on every continent to different degrees of success. HRM is an approach to planning your overall livestock operation. It begins with an overall strategy which must fit into your environment. I don’t think I would be exaggerating too much if I posited that 95% of livestock producers have no strategic plan. The plan must take into consideration the resources at hand, both natural and financial. It must have a goal. Usually the goal is to convert sunlight into money. This is done in livestock operations by going through the cycle of collecting rain and sunlight and storing them in forage plants (forage is not just grass), then converting forage into meat, and finally converting meat into money. Often the resources are limited to the land at hand, the climate, and not that much extra cash lying around. Then you want to implement an affordable tactical plan, within the concept established in the overall strategy, to achieve the goals. Part of your plan might be to avoid traditional medicines used to prop up sick animals until they reluctantly gain some weight. Many producers have learned that by culling sick animals instead of forcing medicine into them, they have an entire herd that no longer gets worms, for example. To continue this example, when you stop using deworming medicine, which also happens to be a long lasting insecticide, the dung beetles will return to your pastures by the 10 of thousands – literally darkening the dawn sky. When the dung beetles return, they clean your entire pasture every 24 hours leaving no piles. What happens to it? They process it with bacteria they carry with them and bury it in deep holes they dig. The dung balls become the first meal for their dung beetle eggs but also become fertilizer for the forage plants. Not only that but when you have hundreds of thousands of 3/4-inch diameter holes in your pastures, there is no amount of flooding rain that will erode that soil. Well there might be but in our experience 3 inches per day for seven days won’t do it. Where does that water go? It goes deep down those holes to soak the deep soil layers. “Overflow” goes into creeks but not from runoff, but rather from infiltration through the soil. Another part of your plan might be to mob graze. One approach to that is to keep some coyotes on hand to scare the livestock into dense herds. Other producers are very successful using cheap electric fencing. Animals learn quickly what a zap will do and avoid the wires.
Why might it be difficult to find the type of university studies everyone wants to see on this topic? First of all, university studies are usually short term in the overall scheme of things. Secondly a university study usually requires a plan to be cast in concrete and undeviating for the duration of the study. The HRM approach is to fly by the seat of your pants. You cannot put your animals into the next pen every 2 weeks if the grass in the next pen is not ready. You have to use your head. Livestock producers are not known for winning Nobel Prizes, but they do have to assess the current situation and think about the strategic plan. If they do not have a big picture plan, then they might fall apart on the battle field the first time Mother Nature throws them a dry spell.
One producer (300 head of Brangus yearlings per year) I’ve talked to has, through HRM, cut his variable expenses so low that the price of meat will have to drop to $0.05 per pound before it cuts into his profits. As his neighbors sell off barren land they can no longer produce on, he is buying it and expanding his productive pasture.
MYTH: Doing all your research for a myth vs. reality type essay can be done entirely on the Internet and/or talking to other people who simply deny the facts.
REALITY: No it can’t. In this case you have to go and talk to people who are doing it successfully for 20 years or so. Ignorance and paranoia will only get you so far once you’ve abandoned the idea of responding to the original TED Talk issue of reclaiming desert land. You seem to have forgotten about that in your essay.
Every single paragraph in this blog is either false or misleading.
1)”Most arid grasslands have low productivity, thus low ability to store new sources of carbon.” – While it is true that the productivity is largely dependent on rainfall, Savory’s method increases the productivity of that land from about double to over 5 times or more by more effectively using the rainfall for any given land area. So yes, the total carbon sequestration potential is less on arid ground, it can still be greater than exists there now in most cases.
“Methane emissions from domestic livestock, particularly cattle, are considered one of the largest sources of global GHG. Livestock also emit nitrous oxide that is even more potent as a greenhouse gas. Together these emissions are considered by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization to be responsible for up to 18% of global GHG.” – This is true, but is largely due to existing forms of animal husbandry, particularly CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations). Remove the animals from the CAFOs and graze them instead and that 18% drops down to a net carbon sink instead of an emissions source. Right there is actually an argument for Savory’s ideas, an 18% reduction in those types of emissions just by eliminating CAFO’s and other destructive management systems right off the top BEFORE any additional sequestration.
“Even worse much of the livestock pasture around the world has been created and continues to be created by the destruction of forests which results in the release of even more carbon into the atmosphere. The replacement of forests with grass pasture thus increases overall carbon emissions” Savory has NEVER advocated destroying forest to graze animals EVER. That statement is simply a false strawman. The blog is lying to you straight up.
2) “However, in side by side comparisons with other grazing methods, if EQUAL attention to forage utilization and timing is followed HM methods have not been shown to be superior. And in many other situations HM has resulted in poorer condition livestock and damage to the land resources.” – First of all, HM is not the only management system possible to be used to sequester carbon. There are several very closely related grazing systems that are equally good at improving both the health of the land and the animals. Why are they closely related? Because the biological principles are the same. MIRG, Mob grazing, HM etc..are all pretty close to the same and all can work. All are vastly superior to CAFOs. They can all be done incorrectly too, but even done poorly are still vastly superior to CAFOs. There is a learning curve for the manager. What Savory has developed is learning tools and a management system that speeds up that learning curve. As far as studies supposedly showing it doesn’t work, I’ll quote one: Origin, Persistence, and Resolution of the Rotational Grazing Debate: Integrating Human Dimensions Into Rangeland Research “The scientific evidence refuting the ecological benefits of rotational grazing is robust, but also narrowly focused, because it derives from experiments that intentionally excluded these human variables.” There is your proof, the studies are false or incorrectly applied to HM, because they have intentionally excluded these human variables. Management is everything to do with human variables. Take those variables away and you are simply not discussing a management system at all, much less Savory’s intensive management system.
3) “Many ranchers cannot or are not able to adopt Savory’s intensive grazing management.” – This paragraph’s whole argument is BS. The very first step in Holistic management framework includes identifying the available resources, including money, labor, etc that the manager has at his disposal. Then gradually implementing the changes that can be done within those constraints.
4) “There are no documented examples of “overrest”.” Bold faced lie. Savory’s Ted Talk vid documents several. There are many more. The scientific term for it is called an ecological and/or trophic cascade.
5) “In the absence of livestock grazing, plants become moribund and die.”- Another strawman. Savory never says the grazer must be livestock, he simply states the where the vast grazing herds have been decimated or destroyed, gone extinct, etc… livestock, properly managed, can be substituted to fill the ecological niche that was lost, reversing the trophic cascade that we humans caused. Actually as habitat improves, and the trophic cascade begins to reverse, wild populations will often return as well.
I could go on and on. Every point made in that blog is either completely false or misleading. But I think that is enough to prove the point.
Reading though a lot of text. I simply called a few farmers in Australia and asked their opinion.
Savoury’s method works.
Ridiculous amount of photos of “Before” and “After”. History will judge Savoury well 🙂
You’ve clinched it! I should have thought of that. I could have just called a rancher and he would have told me that this whole story was wrong. No need to do any pesky reading or see the conditions for myself. Damn!