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Talking Points Regarding Savory: How Organic Farming Can Reverse Global Warming

For related articles and information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource center page and our Organic Transitions.

1. Statements that Savory's work isn't supported in the academic peer-reviewed literature, or that it has been discredited in the academic literature are categorically wrong. The entire so called discrediting of Savory rests on two papers, Holecheck (2000) and Briske (2008), which themselves have been refuted in the academic and professional literature (Teague, Provenza, et al 2008; Teague, Dowhower, et al 2011, Gill 2009b, Gill 2009c).  Studies in peer-reviewed academic literature show that Savory's method works in achieving a full suite of ecological, economic, and quality of life enhancing goals (Stinner, D. 1997, Teague R. 2011), including improved grass density, soil moisture, soil bulk density, standing crop biomass, and soil organic matter (SOM) (Teaque R. 2011) and percent volumetric-water content (%VWC) (Weber K.T., Gokhale B.S., 2011), where both SOM and %VWC are indicators of soil carbon. A recent study from Chiapas, Mexico has shown that Holistic Management on dairy farms allowed for an increasing in production with a simultaneous increase in sustainability (Alfaro-Arguello R., A.W. Diemont S., 2010). And Savory's thesis that a paucity of animals on grasslands is a major cause of desertification is also supported (Weber, K. T.,  Horst, S., 2011).

2. There is abundant empirical evidence of its efficacy (Dagget, D 2000, 2005; Judy, G 2008; Howell, J 2008, Savory Institute 2013, Planet-TECH 2013).

3. The climate crisis is much worse than is commonly realized and efforts of atmospheric carbon capture must become a worldwide priority. Recent research suggests summer polar cover could be entirely gone by as early as 2016 (Romm 2013), and that the resultant positive feedbacks from arctic methane release could cause runaway catastrophic warming, with "Permian Extinction" level consequences within this century (Arctic News 2013).

Romm 2013, Death Spiral Watch: Experts Warn 'Near Ice-Free Arctic In Summer' In A Decade If Volume Trends Continue, 

Arctic News 2013. Global Extinction within one Human Lifetime as a Result of a Spreading Atmospheric Arctic Methane Heat wave and Surface Firestorm.

Addressing Misconceptions about Savory's Work

Misconception 1: Savoy has been discredited by peer review literature.

False. The entire so called discrediting of Savory rests on two papers, Holecheck (2000) and Briske (2008), which themselves have been refuted in the academic literature (Teague, Provenza, et al 2008; Teague, Dowhower, et al 2011, Gill 2009b, Gill 2009c). The Holechek and Briske papers were synthesis reports of grazing management studies. The papers correctly stated, based on their review, that "rotational grazing" or "short duration grazing" systems don't have superior performance to continuous grazing. That was their whole finding, for which Savory or any practitioner of Holistic Management would concur. Their error, however, and the cause of this confusion, was in associating the studies cited with the Holistic Management approach advocated by Savory. This is a specific adaptive planning process geared for maximum ecological performance that incorporates goals and monitoring. Savory and others refer to this as planned grazing, or Holistic Planned Grazing (HPG). The distinction between that and what was studied by the papers in Briske and Holechek could not be more different, and the findings of one have no bearing on the other.

Here is what Teague has to say about it:

"The benefits of multi-paddock rotational grazing on commercial livestock enterprises have been evident for many years in many countries....  Many ranchers who have practiced multi-paddock grazing management for decades are very satisfied with the economic results and improvement to the ecosystem, as well as the change in management lifestyle and social environment of their ranch businesses.  Such ranchers regularly win conservation awards from the ranching industry and natural resource professional organizations.  In contrast, many grazing researchers have concluded that multi-paddock grazing offers no significant benefit over continuous grazing (Holechek et al. 1999, 2000; Briske et al. 2008), but their studies have been largely small-scale trials focused on the technical questions of ecological impacts and livestock production conducted in a relatively limited scope of fairly resilient landscapes.  In addition, research plots are designed to reduce or eliminate variability, while ranch managers must manage in the environment with all the inherent variability othe landscape." (Teague et al., 2008) ... "Grazing ungulates have an entirely different impact on the landscape than that implied by Briske et al. (2008), as is well documented by work at the landscape scale we have outlined earlier in this chapter.  This points to an entirely different and more meaningful way of designing and interpreting grazing trials" (Teague et al., 2008). ... "Our study contradicts a recent review of rangeland grazing studies (Briske et al., 2008) which suggested MP grazing does not improve vegetation or animal production relative to continuous grazing. The discrepancy is because we measured the impacts on vegetation and soils achieved by ranchers managing at the ranch scale and adapting management in response to changing circumstances in order to achieve desirable outcomes" (Teague, et al 2011). ... "At the ranch scale, when multi-paddock grazing is managed to give the best vegetation and animal performance it is superior to continuous grazing regarding conservation and restoration of resources, provision of ecosystem goods and services, and ranch profitability" (Teague, et al 2011).

As a result of the discussions on TED, Teague (2013) has reissued his refutation of the association of the Holechek and Briske findings with Savory.

"The debate on MP grazing is not over. Reviews of grazing management research by Holechek et al. (2000) and Briske et al. (2008) concluded "multi-­‐paddock grazing improves neither vegetation nor animal production relative to single-­‐paddock continuous stocking." This hypothesis and viewpoint is deficient because it does not consider 1) critical differences between reductionist science and management, 2) the integration of ecological, economic, and social goals required for successful management, and 3) the value of case studies for studying such phenomena"

"To test this hypothesis, we compared ranches managed traditionally or with multi-­‐paddock grazing for at least 10 years. Our findings were consistent with the hypothesis that "at a ranch management scale, planned multi-­‐paddock grazing, when managed to give best vegetation and animal performance, has the potential to produce superior conservation and restoration outcomes for rangeland resources, to provide superior ecosystem services for society, and to yield greater ranch profitability and greater socio-­‐ecological resilience compared to season-­‐long continuous stocking." This research is published in Teague et al. (2011)."

"During the last two decades, the vast majority of awards for conservation have gone to ranchers using multi-­‐paddock grazing of some form to accomplish ecological, economic, and social goals. Each one of these ranchers, and all others using multi-­‐ paddock grazing, refutes the hypothesis of Briske et al (2008). As an illustration of the validity of this approach, the NRCS in Texas now receive Holistic Management training developed by Allan Savory and use it for their planning and management advice to ranchers throughout the state."  (Teague 2013)

Here is what Savory had to say about the distinction between planned grazing (his approach) and rotational or short duration grazing systems as early as 1983.

(Planned grazing) is not a grazing system. Anyone describing it as a grazing system is merely indicating that he has not yet understood the holistic approach to the management of all resources simultaneously, with constant monitoring and adjustment to achieve a goal.

Some say it (planned grazing) is a 'cell system' or the 'wagon wheel system'.  Again this is totally erroneous and can only lead ranchers to costly error if they believe it and apply it as such. (Savory 1983)

Briske and Holechek would have known that Savory himself was outspoken about disavowing the types of grazing management systems that they were studying, and could have made that point clear.

Here is Savory's response to Holechek's paper.

"The work Holechek et al. describe is unlike any range man­agement practice I have ever advocated. They claim an ex­haustive research of the literature and refer to the first edition of my book. In my writings there is nothing advocating the short duration grazing they researched. In fact I have consis­tently stated that all grazing systems and rotations, including short duration grazing, will fail" (Savory 2000).

The best refutation for the lay person, is from Chris Gill (2008, 2009a-c), a West Texas rancher. See citations below, particularly (2008). That is a point-by-point breakdown of Holechek. It is fascinating reading. Here is an example from Gill, in a letter to authors of the book Habitat Guidelines for Mule Deer which had claimed that Savory's thesis had been "disproved" citing, of course, Holechek and Briske.

"Your conclusion has two parts: (1) planned grazing does not increase range productivity, and, (2) the increased hoof action of a large number of cattle associated with planned grazing consistently compacts soil and thereby decreases water infiltration (Heffelfinger et al. 2006). Both conclusions may be correct with respect to short duration grazing systems (SDG's). Neither is valid with respect to planned grazing. No study cited, or relied upon, tested the outcomes of planned grazing (Holechek et al. 2000)." ... "Excessive Herbivory, page 11 (of the Mule Deer book), states in part: '(Allan) Savory  claimed that by grazing pastures intensively and moving stock frequently the range could actually be improved while simultaneously increasing the stocking rate.  On some ranches it was even claimed that stocking rate could be doubled or tripled with improvements to range and livestock productivity.  Researchers during the last few decades have shown these claims to be invalid (Heffelfinger et al. 2006;  Holechek et al. 2000).'"

"To the contrary, this is precisely the outcome we have experienced.  After eight years under planned grazing at our 32,000-acre high-desert mountain Circle Ranch in Hudspeth County, far-West Texas, we take almost triple the animal days of grazing (AD's) possible from conventional stocking rates recommended by NRCS and Texas Parks & Wildlife.  Conventional practice dictates a herd of 250 head for 365 days: 250 X 365 = 91,800 AD's.  This year we are running 1000 head for 240 days: 1000 X 240 = 240,000 AD's; plus, 50 head for 180 days: 50 X 180 = 9,000.  This totals 249,000 AD's, 270% of conventional results, virtually the very result you say has been proven invalid." (Gill 2008)    
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