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Fodder for Thought

The Whole View Is Best For Beef Producers

Our application of technology should shift from one-size-fits-all to critical thinking and strategizing.


This week I began sitting in on a class at Montana State University focused on holistic thought and management principles.

Over the past few months I have slowly been reading my way through Allan Savory’s book, Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making, so this opportunity could not have come at a better time. I am looking forward to learning from holistic educators like Cliff Montagne and Roland Kroos.

Recent discussions in the class have included ecosystem processes, the tools we use to manage these, how to make decisions holistically and in turn use these tools and the holistic decision making process to better manage our human and land resources.

Since I joined the class more than month after it started, the discussion has progressed along to management tools. The first lecture I sat in on discussed uses of animal impact and rest. However, what I found to be the most interesting was our discussion this past Wednesday, which revolved around the use of technology and living organisms.

In Savory’s holistic management (HM) book, he describes technology as the most-used tool when it comes to management today. Many times the use technology in our management systems stems from our desire to dominate nature. However, this line of thinking overlooks the two very important characteristics of nature which Savory mentions:

  • First, our ecosystem is not a machine but a living thing that energetically moves and reproduces itself according to its own principles.
  • Second, the life that we artificially suppress or take to extinction may have contributed to our own survival.

Ignoring these attributes only leads to mechanisms which Savory describes as very similar to dependency of drug or alcohol abuse. The steps of addiction, whether it be to a drug or to technology, are strikingly similar

  1. Addiction
  2. Denial
  3. Degradation
  4. Skid row
  5. Death

An example of this could be use of an herbicide. A farmer applies it year after year to control a particular weed problem in his crop. Sadly, over time the weed develops resistance to the herbicide. Our natural human reaction is to increase the strength and quantity of herbicide or possibly seek out more powerful and lethal chemical controls. In the end, however, we still have a weed problem that continues to get progressively worse and a technology that obviously is not fixing the problem.

Medicating the symptoms does not eliminate the problem. You must get to the root of it. Technology is not always the answer. Sometimes, as in the case of a problem weed, simple management changes like incorporating new crop rotations or use of cover crops can break a problem weed’s life cycle.

Incidentally, this was just meant to be an example and is by no means the only way to handle problem weeds.

The point is, when managing something as complex and rapidly changing as biological systems like plant and animal communities, management systems must be strategic and adaptive.

When we encounter a problem, we must consider the problem but also how the strategy we choose to address the issue will affect the ecosystem as a whole. As you’ll soon learn in holistic management, no whole can be managed without first looking inward to the lesser wholes that combine to form it and outward to the greater wholes of which it is a member.

Savory wrote that what is currently missing and severely needed to remedy this lack of the large view is a traditional land ethic or a collective sense of conscience and responsibility, either to our fellow humans or to other life.

How we develop that ethic is up to interpretation. One thing is for sure, however; he’s spot on in his statement. I can name many a farmer and rancher who possesses such an ethic. Sadly I can also name many who haven’t a clue.

So all this leads me to believe what is really needed is a change of attitude.

Technology is by every means necessary because without it we are unlikely ever to be able to feed our growing populations. Our application of technology, however, must shift from that of excess to one of critical thinking and strategy. We should consider all possible solutions and always keep our intended goal for the whole in mind.

While our human nature would have us more times than not choose the quick fix, the potentially adverse long-term effects are not always worth the immediate benefits we receive.

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