On grazing and land conservation again: Assessment of Allan Savory anyone?


hari kumar
 

A recent prior strand followed an NYT article on the attempts in the USA to adopt the tactic of cattle-raising as a vehicle of land restoration. I recently was pointed to this video of a Ted talk by Allan Savory. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpTHi7O66pI
A wikipedia view of him, suggests the academic community not fully supportive: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allan_Savory#Bibliography
But the video & the article not current. Anyone have a quick handle on the scientific community's views on this at present? 
Thanks in advance, Hari Kumar


Louis Proyect
 

On 3/16/21 12:31 PM, hari kumar wrote:
A recent prior strand followed an NYT article on the attempts in the USA to adopt the tactic of cattle-raising as a vehicle of land restoration. I recently was pointed to this video of a Ted talk by Allan Savory. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpTHi7O66pI <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpTHi7O66pI>
A wikipedia view of him, suggests the academic community not fully supportive: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allan_Savory#Bibliography <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allan_Savory#Bibliography>
But the video & the article not current. Anyone have a quick handle on the scientific community's views on this at present?
Thanks in advance, Hari Kumar
All you need to know. One critic, James McWilliams is a GMO advocate. The other, George Monbiot, is into nuclear power.


Karen Saunders
 

Opinions of Savory's methods differ greatly between ranchers/farmers and dryland ecologists.

Among other controversies, Savory  claims that intensive trampling and foraging will, among other things, break up biological soil crusts. This is true, but biological crusts are ecologically important parts of dryland communities. But...
"Soils in arid and semiarid grasslands often have significant areas covered by biological crusts [5355]. These are made up of bacteria, cyanobacteria, algae, mosses, and lichens and are essential to the health of these grasslands. Biological crusts stabilize soils, increase soil organic matter and nutrient content, absorb dew during dry periods, and fix nitrogen [53, 5660]. Crusts enhance soil stability and reduce water runoff by producing more microcatchments on soil surfaces. They increase water absorbing organic matter, improve nutrient flow, germination and establishment of
some plants, while dark crusts may stimulate plant growth by producing warmer soil temperatures and water uptake in cold deserts [61]. Some crusts are hydrophobic, shedding water [60]. Biological soil crusts are fragile, highly susceptible to trampling [6163], and are slow to recover from trampling impacts [64]. Loss of these crusts results in increased erosion and reduced soil fertility. The loss of crusts in the bunchgrass communities of the western USA may be largely responsible for the widespread establishment of cheatgrass and other exotic annuals [23, 58, 65]. The rapid spread of introduced weeds throughout the arid western USA is estimated at over 2000 hectares per day [66], largely due to livestock disturbance." 

Carter, J., Jones, A., O’Brien, M., Ratner, J., & Wuerthner, G. (2014). Holistic management: misinformation on the science of grazed ecosystems. International Journal of Biodiversity, 2014, 1-10.
You can read more about biological soil crusts here.
Antoninka, A., Faist, A., Rodriguez‐Caballero, E., Young, K. E., Chaudhary, V. B., Condon, L. A., & Pyke, D. A. (2020). Biological soil crusts in ecological restoration: Emerging research and perspectives. Restoration Ecology, 28, S3-S8.

I'm an ecologist not a rancher (nor a GMO or nuclear power advocate), so my sympathies lie with the biological crusts and indigenous plant species that get crowded out, rather than with the ranchers.  But a perusal of google scholar will give you a sense of the range of opinion among practitioners and academics in both camps.
Karen Saunders


Louis Proyect
 

On 3/16/21 1:26 PM, karenfransdottir@... wrote:
Wuerthner, G.

I'll have to take a closer look at this since I have been following George Wuethner for years on CounterPunch and regard him as a real expert. However, a quick look at one of the things he wrote against Savory involves the blanket statement that cows are bad period because of their farts.


ratbagradio@...
 

There is a good summary of Savoury-influenced approaches in the regen bible here in Australia -- 'Call of the Reed Warbler -- by Charles Massey.
Of course, most of Australia is a dry climate and any 'crusting' issue is supposedly aimed at the exotic import of cloven hooves. However, other researchers point out that Australia lacks ruminant species of ecological significance -- aside from termites! -- and that our flora evolved in tandem with megafauna browsers that are now extinct.
So who eats them now? Who crushes them?
This ties into debates about the genesis of bushfire and why traditional Aboriginal firestick burning is so significant to landscape health.
As Massey points out pure-Savoury is a bit passe as so many farmers have adapted their methods to local ecologies.
While climates may be dry now, they weren't always so as plants and soils have adapted to change.
In Massey's telling, plant species thought lost from a region return under protocols of Holistic management -- and Aboriginal elders defer to its impact for fostering  pre-invasion mixes of plants and animals.
However, I gather that soil crusts are of significant vulnerability here:
In many of the world's drier areas extensive carpets of lichens, bryophytes and cyanobacteria play important ecological roles. Such carpets are called biological soil crusts and one of their major functions is erosion control. In many dry parts of the world where there is no human disturbance and no overstocking of grazing animals, biological soil crusts can form very extensive, close to continuous, carpets on the soil and can be the dominant or only photosynthesizers. Consequently such crusts are the dominant or only primary producers on which other organisms depend. Both lichens and bryophytes commonly have root-like structures (but not true roots) to anchor themselves to the soil. In lichens they are called rhizines and in bryophytes they are called rhizoids. The small book listed in the reference button gives an excellent introduction to these soil crusts, with photographs of many of the crust-forming species found in Australia.--LINK
Best practice is, anyway, that vulnerable areas of landscape are fenced off from grazing. Here it is usually watercourses and swamps -- and a regenerative farmer would be a fool not to protect them. Indeed, one of the pluses of Savoury influenced methods is that watering is  dissipated through the paddock system rather than allowing the livestock to walk to natural water supplies to drink.
As for science and holistic grazing , Australia's major science body, the CSIRO,  has done scattered research on the method. 
But research is lagging way behind farmer enthusiasm for regenerative agriculture approaches esp in the livestock industry. Indeed the farmers associations back regen and are committed to net zero emissions by 2030. 
Albeit as a market niche.
It is worth noting that recent developments promoting seaweed as a methane suppressant for ruminant gases, must presume a feedlot system of production rather than free ranging. [See discussion here]


hari kumar
 

Hello Karen: Many thanks, it is so easy getting drowned in the technical literature, it is good to have some threads to get out of the maze with.
Will look at these with interest, and may return with queries. 
Thanks again, In solidarity, Hari K


hari kumar
 

Again. Many thanks. Will look at & may return. Cheers Hari


David Walters
 

Hi Hari, this happens to be an area of of study for me. An over enthusiastic article I wrote years ago is here:  https://tinyurl.com/y2dh5pg3 a recent debate in "Socialist Organiser" from the UK is here: https://www.workersliberty.org/story/2019-12-18/phase-out-almost-all-animal-products-wrong-debate I'm not a supporter at all of this group that puts out the paper but the discussion and debate over "going meatless" is fascinating. I was invited to write a contribution, which actually focuses on what I'm interested in, soil fertility. The article Louis links to is sadly so one sided and avoids all the discussion around regenerative agriculture (or "eco-agriculture" as it is known in some circles) that involves everything from Savory's "holistic management" to no-till farming. It really seems that that this George Wuerthner Geore Wuethner person is either ignorant of all this or has not understanding at all of the role cattle have played historically, even in the very dry climates he uses to attack the cow as the enemy. My point on this is that is a HUGE debate and involves everything from climate change to how to farm to "organic" farming to the nitrogen and organic soil carbon crisis and the lose of gigatons every year of top soil due to bad farming practices. In my article that comes out in Socialist Organiser I try to address some of these issues. My perspective to start from actually is not climate change but indeed, the soil. And it is from here that I grew to understand the problems of factory farming ("CAFOs") and fossil fuel derived fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, etc.

 

Savory. I have to admit that watching Savory at the Ted talk kind of/sort of got me going on this soil and cattle kick. The problem is that he appears to have eared in some ways in his talk, overstating his case for the results of his own experiments in Zimbabwe. The Savory Institute in fact answers the critics of his method. The problem here is that there is a kind of mini-cult around Savory from ranchers and practitioners of mob-grazing. People are overly enthused about it. It is a far more complex than often the supporters of mob-grazing/regenerative agriculture are willing to admit. I urge you to look over the Savory Institute web site for actual data and papers they have published on this subject.

 

A few points to end my own bit on this. I would urge a reading of the links provided by ratbagradio in his post on this. I had not seen them before and they are fascinating. Lastly, on the comment forwarded to this list or made by Karen(?) with the point that there are many healthy ecologies where there are no cattle or disturbance of the soil (to stimulate root growth in grasses). I agree. New Zealand was one place without large ruminants (grass eaters) and their semi-tropical rainforests and grass lands did flourish. But then no one was harvesting these grasses for grain or vegetables. For every kilo of carbon removed in the form of corn, wheat, or legumes, that carbon *has to be replaced*. What cattle offer in addition to the way they eat grass, if moved around in a managed way (and as nature did with predators) when combined with photosynthesis (solar energy) that carbon, all of it, and more is replaced. Combine this will getting rid of the plow and using mechanzed seed drills, our soil run off, or most of it, goes away. Our soils *regenerate*, something no one in the anti-cow brigade can compete with.

 

David Walters

PS...then we get to eat the grass fed, grass finished cattle!


David Walters
 

Sorry about the grammar/spelling errors. Ugh!!! One last thing, Wuethner is right to attack "ranchers". That type of ranching and certainly is the most common though regenerative ranching and farmers us catching up is known as "free range ranching" and sounds romantic. It is not. The farmer drop off cattle at a several thousand acre field and pick them back up again in a few month to a year, then move them to a feed lot. The cattle, with no predators, simply lie around and eat they want. They destroy the soil by over grazing in one spot and eat only what they want. This is actually the opposite of how they evolve, which as Savory does explain well, were moved around *constantly* by predators (including humans). They never rested in one spot for long and lived in a state of semi-stress (the happy cow is a disgusting marketing gimmick that never really exists in nature). By doing this bison/buffalo/cows were forced to eat what ever they could or some other cow would eat it before them. They constantly moved their herd depositing manure along the way. This is one reason the soils in North America were so carbon rich, upwards of 4 to 8% in soil organic carbon. Top soil was sometimes meters thick. European farmers for decades essentially mined this soil for the carbon which they harvested in the form of sugar, corn, wheat and so on. Regenerative farming re-establishes this as an analog to nature by daily (or twice daily) moving cows around from paddock to paddock. It is much cheaper to farm this way but requires more work and most husbanding of the animals. There is a huge debate over carbon sequestration. Defenders of this form of ranching tend to exaggerate the quantity of carbon sequestrated by the soil. But it does get sequestrated. It is a better way of raising our food. It requires *more* folks back on the land (which is a good thing, IMO) by a small percentage and it produced great tasting beef, cattle, chicken and pigs without any of the fossil fuel inputs previously required. That is a good thing anyway you slice it. Lastly, it much nicer to the animals who otherwise would rarely have taller fresher grass or worse, be fed grains, something they never evolved to eat (except pigs of course that can eat anything and like it). There are the same number of grass eaters on the planet as there were 2000 years ago. So the "cow" was the same, but we changed. We have to stop blaming the cow and change the way we produce commodities and make energy. Leave the cows alone and return them to the grass they evolved on.


ratbagradio@...
 

I think one element offered by Savoury needs to be taken on hesitantly: rotational grazing as a fix-it carbon sink. This is trumpeted elsewhere journalistically -- see Cows Save the Planet -- and a bone of contention among academics.
Each year the scientific study of soil improves greatly and the complexity of the ecological processes is awesome...But we cannot say that grazing can be the primary tool to sequester the carbon emitted worldwide.
Sequestration rates are so variable and volatile over time.
Although his figures are dated, Simon Fairlie in Meat: A Benign Extravagance has a good discussion about the statistics involved.
We are beginning to understand soil structures and microbiological templates that best sequester greenhouse gases but there is no absolute reliability vis a vis woodland, grassland, and brittle environments...anywhere in anyone's paddock.
For instance, back in 2014 -- in was Australian desert areas that sequestered carbon on par with the Amazon.
Because of this, besides its gross commodification of Nature, carbon trading is really a scam.
Ultimately, the key problem with Savoury's perspective is that it is just another bioengineering method that doesn't  tackle the political challenges  the environment faces. Even if millions of acres of land worldwide are grazed holistically the overall ecological challenge is still gonna be larger than any number of bovines stomachs.
So to sign up to the Cows-save-planet scenario is a huge mistake -- but that attitude is pervasive within the regenerative agriculture movement. Here, among glaziers in Australia a large sector insist that we can still have our fossil fuels cake because farmers can do such a great job burying emissions by just farming a different way.
In this sense, Holistic grazing and regen agriculture has also become a shibboleth for conservative agrarian forces among farmers.
The other problem is that like so many organic movements the adjustment to holistic framing (and even the name suggests the theme) is a spiritual and personal journey. So you get a ready idealisation -- one that, as John Bellamy Foster points out, resides in these currents as far back as Jan Smutts and Rudolf Steiner.
In that sense,  the fight for regenerative agriculture must ALSO be a fight for materialism because the shallowness of many of the arguments employed, panders to localism and consumerism. 
However, the irony is that the sort of human within nature intermesh argued by Marx and Engels -- and broken by commodifying processes like the Metabolic Rift -- is sustained in the outlook of indigenous peoples and some traditional farming systems. Despite the spiritual tradition, we need a scientific handle to explain this that does not fall victim to reductionism -- and reducing carbon sequestration to cows stomachs is still reductionism.

dave riley


hari kumar
 

Again - Thanks David W and Dave R for all the very thoughtful replies and comments. As to fitting into a materialism, I fully agree with that sentiment.
I apologise to all, I am trying to 'process' all this. Yet increasingly I seem not to know how to allocate my time... I thought then I retired from my 'day job' I would fit it all in...  
Thx to all, Hari