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What is Holistic Management

Many ranchers and farmers in Western Canada were first introduced to Holistic Resource Management (as it was known then) in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. Allan Savory had developed a management practice that was more often than not linked to a grazing system.

Since then the practice has continued to grow and evolve while remaining rooted in the basic tenets. Firstly, the concept of holism, that all things are interconnected, is an important piece of how we look at the world and our operations, as opposed to a reductionist approach. Furthermore, Holistic Management considers the land and livestock, the finances and the human resource. It is one of the few agricultural approaches that includes the people.

The emphasis on the people side and acknowledging that our most underutilized resource is human creativity, resulted in mixed perceptions in early years. That idea was not widely embraced in agriculture circles. However, many now recognize the value in creating truly sustainable operations through leadership development.

Nowadays, a common phrase that is used in management is looking after the “triple bottom line”. Holistic Management has been doing that for many years.

What Holistic Management is

A values-based decision making framework that is goal driven and unique to every operation. It is simple in its approach, but can be complex in its application. It assumes each producer is the best expert on their own operation. It requires open mindedness to shift our viewpoints and flexibility in management. It involves six practices: define what you manage; define your purpose and three-part goal/context; observe the four ecosystem processes; consider all tools available; implement planning and monitoring processes; utilize testing questions for improved decision making; create a feedback loop to inform your progress.

The six questions to enhance decision making include:

  1. Root Cause – Have I clearly defined the problem, and does this action address the root cause of the problem?

  2. Weak Link – Social – Have we considered any opposition from others in our community? Weak Link – Biological – Does this action effect the weakest point in the life cycle of the species? Will it negatively affect healthy soil biology? Weak Link – Financial – In each enterprise, what single thing will have the greatest impact on generating more income? Does this action strengthen the weakest link in the chain of production?

  3. Comparing Options – Which actions gives the greatest return for time and money spent?

  4. Gross Profit Analysis – Which enterprise contributes the most to covering overheads?

  5. Input Analysis – Is the energy or money used in this action derived from the most appropriate source? Will the way it is used lead towards your holistic goal/context?

  6. Vision Analysis – Does this action lead you towards your long range vision?

  7. Gut check – Considering all the above questions, how do you feel about this action?


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