Holistic management – a critical review of Allan Savory’s grazing method

SLU/EPOK – Centre for Organic Food & Farming & Chalmers - Maria Nordborg

Type: Research Paper
Knowledge level: Advanced

Farm Table says:

A measured review of scientific papers, both inside and outside of the research portfolios of the Savory Institute, relating to Holistic Management.

What is the problem?

Holistic grazing builds on the concept of rotational grazing and it’s claims include “increase plant production and the soil’s ability to infiltrate and retain water, stop land degradation and improve living and profitability for the herders. Increased pasture plant growth in turn leads to more carbon from the atmosphere being sequestered into the soil.”

Central to the system is a decision-making framework and plan within the adaptive and flexible grazing management approach.

The author notes that criticism directed towards Savory is that the claims are “not sufficiently backed up by scientific evidence”. The aim therefore of this study is to review scientific support for claims.

What did the research involve?

  • Review of peer-reviewed scientific papers inside and outside of the Savory Institute.

What were the key findings?

There are relatively few (11) peer-reviewed studies on the effects of holistic grazing that are ‘approved’ by the Savory Institute, i.e., included in Savory Institute Research Portfolio. These case studies show positive effects of holistic grazing in terms of grassland and livestock productivity and soil conditions over conventional or continuous grazing, but are rather limited in time, number of study sites and analyzed data. Only six of the studies use measurements while five are based on interviews or surveys. Further, the results are partially inconclusive, and the reported effects are in most cases rather small.

  • Studies comparing different grazing systems are few and difficult to perform due to variability in systems and local conditions
  • To date, no review has concluded that it is superior to conventional or continuous grazing.

One possible reason is that the effects of the holistic framework for decision-making have not been appropriately accounted for in these studies.

2016 - Europe - SLU/EPOK – Centre for Organic Food & Farming & Chalmers - Maria Nordborg
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