The team at Savory Institute has demonstrated the power and effectiveness of Holistic Management to restore grasslands and sequester carbon for more than 50 years.
Peer-reviewed literature and numerous case studies point to the clear benefits of this regenerative management practice, and there is a growing body of evidence that studies Holistic Management in an on-farm context that demonstrates effectiveness in increased production, carbon sequestration, profitability, and more.
Extensive research by leading scientists such as Teague, Rowntree, Machmuller, et al. has shown that the adoption of Savory’s methods can, in fact, regenerate grasslands and improve soil health, despite claims to the contrary.
However, we acknowledge that livestock grazing has become quite a contentious topic amongst academics. As with any new concept, especially one that challenges conventional thinking and standard practices, polarization is to be expected.
A 2017 paper titled “Who’s afraid of Allan Savory?” analyzed trends in the literature according to subject area, continent of publication, and position (positive/neutral/negative). The authors found that the number of papers on Holistic Management spiked in the 1980’s after publication of the first edition of Allan’s book Holistic Management. Early references to Holistic Management originated in North America, and since then have become more evenly spread out across the globe. Among subject areas, those doing farm-scale (rather than experimental) work in dry climates were most likely to have positive positions towards Holistic Management. This shows that, despite internal divisions on interpretations of specific studies, those with first-hand knowledge and boots-on-the-ground experience with Holistic Management are able to more clearly see the positive impacts. It all speaks to the difficulties of taking a (reductionist) approach towards evaluating (holistic) systems.
Most criticisms of Holistic Management center around two specific papers, Briske (2008) and Holecheck (2000), that themselves have been refuted in the scientific literature.[4-7] Both papers looked at other grazing management studies and concluded that “rotational grazing” and “short duration grazing” offer no improvements over continuous grazing. The Savory Institute takes no disagreement with these positions, but rather our disagreement lies in the erroneous claims that rotational grazing and short during grazing are the same as or somehow endorsed by Holistic Management.
A 2017 paper by Dr. Richard Teague provides an overview of studies on Holistic Management (referred to as “adaptive multi-paddock” [AMP] grazing in his research). In this paper, he aptly describes the shortcomings of Briske and Holecheck’s conclusions:
“Most rotational grazing treatments in experiments (as cited by Briske et al. 2008) have not been conducted under management protocols demonstrated to provide desired outcomes, and underestimate the potential of multi-paddock grazing to improve ecosystem function (Teague et al. 2013). Specifically, the studies have been short term and have not included the critical factor of scale. Paddocks have been grazed for too long and not enough time has been allowed for plants to recover from grazing. As conditions change, research management has not adapted to the changes but used fixed, predetermined protocols. By not adapting under constantly varying conditions, good animal production and resource improvement have not been achieved. Researchers have also concentrated on differences in productivity without considering negative impacts on key elements of ecosystem function or the long-term accumulating negative impacts of continuous grazing.”
Teague goes on to detail the substantial positive evidence in favor of Holistic Management that Briske and Holecheck omitted from their papers. He continues about the importance of research needing to take a whole-farm approach that incorporates management-related factors, allows for adaptation, and is sufficient in scale and duration.
“The effective study of farm management requires understanding farm landscape responses to alternative management actions and comparison of the ways in which they interact with biophysical processes and evolve over time.”
Most recently, Dr. Hannah Gosnell of Oregon State University published a comprehensive literature review titled “A half century of Holistic Management: what does the evidence reveal?”, outlining 50+ years of Holistic Management research, including the main tenets behind the decision-making framework and historical academic debates that stem from a narrow industrial paradigm before social-ecological frameworks were developed. It furthermore provides a meta-analysis of the multidisciplinary evidence, including the less-studied social, cultural, and psychological aspects, and offers a new lens for researching rangelands in holistic, integrated ways.
“In conclusion, we believe that the controversy over the effectiveness of HM can be traced back to the narrow terms in which HM was initially studied, at a time before social-ecological frameworks were developed. Studying a different agricultural paradigm was inhibited because—within an industrial farming paradigm—the only credible way to establish the value of an agricultural practice was to frame it in narrow, positivistic terms that removed the rancher as a thinking, adaptive agent, instead focusing solely on generic treatment efficacy for increasing forage, reducing desertification, and fixing carbon. [...] A more holistic approach to co-producing scientific knowledge about HM, grounded in enhancing the capacity and agency of ranchers, should be seen as part of the system change that HM is attempting to leverage within agriculture.”
As research continues to evolve, it is promising to see institutions like Texas A&M (Dr. Richard Teague), Berkeley (Dr. Paige Stanley), Michigan State University (Dr. Jason Rowntree), and others now taking this more holistic approach that values and includes the unique perspectives of on-the-ground practitioners.
- Science Portfolio - A PDF containing a comprehensive list of peer-reviewed papers studying Holistic Management and other tangential topics.
- Savory's Library - A searchable database of technical papers documenting the results achieved with Holistic Management, case studies, profiles, whitepapers, books, videos, films, infographics, and more.
 Teague et al., 2008. Benefits of Multi-Paddock Grazing Management on Rangelands: Limitations of Experimental Grazing Research and Knowledge Gaps. In: Schroder, H.G. (Ed.), Grasslands: Ecology, Management and Restoration, pp. 41-80.
 Teague et al., 2011. Grazing management impacts on vegetation, soil biota and soil chemical, physical and hydrological properties in tall grass prairie. Agriculture Ecosystems and Environment 141, 310-322.