Regenerative agriculture: Savory Institute puts grasslands to work

This second in a series of articles about regenerative agriculture provides a snapshot of the discussions held at the Savory Institute conference in London on Friday.

This second in a series of articles about regenerative agriculture provides a snapshot of the discussions held at the Savory Institute conference in London on Friday.

Holistic planned grazing, a method of livestock management as promoted by Allan Savory, founder of the Savory Institute, was one of the most discussed strategies at today’s Savory Institute conference, an event dedicated to the regenerative agriculture movement

The strategy involves attempting to mimic the wild by moving very large herds of livestock across different plots of land depending on various outside factors, including the weather, with the main aim of improving the fertility of the soil.

In turn this creates better growing conditions for the pasture that the livestock eat but can also be transferred to crops if the land’s use is rotated. Pursuing such a system requires little-to-no inputs and is a sustainable agriculture method, according to the institute.

Ricardo Fenton, manager of the Estancia Monte Dinero in Argentina, described how his local cooperative of farmers using holistic management techniques had increased its income over a six year period by increasing the number of livestock on its land but also by charging higher pricing for its offtake.

“You need to regenerate the land to hold higher stocking rates [of livestock], which is the main driver of profit,” he told delegates. “It is not a high tech approach; fix the land first and then you can make other decisions [such as] the genetics of your livestock or other biological principles.”

Fenton’s sheep have a sustainable wool stamp and sell wool to some major designers such as Stella McCartney, for which he charges a premium price.

“We try to capture the added value of regenerative work,” he said. “There is a very important role of consumers in sending the right signals to the farmers about what is good for society and the land. So the market itself can drive changes by putting a premium on products that come from regenerative agriculture,” he added.

José Manuel Gartazar, leader of Savory Institute’s Hub in Chile, told delegates that doubling the number of sheep on the land he works had resulted in doubling the income per sheep.

This potential to increase the value of livestock produced under a holistic grazing system comes not only from the improved pasture conditions helping to produce fatter animals, but also from the ability to price the herds at a premium due to their sustainable, and potentially organic stamp.

But the challenges of expanding the use of these methods were a more pressing matter throughout the day. The need to promote the importance of creating a sustainable agriculture industry among consumers was discussed widely by panellists and delegates.

Savory himself talked about the need to harness popular opinion to influence governments but that the message and context of the problem needs to be clearer – too often it just relates to the symptoms of the problem and not the underlying causes of it and its potential consequences elsewhere.

The Savory Institute has developed various initiatives to promote regenerative agriculture strategies including the establishment of ‘hubs’ across the world where like-minded farmers can collaborate and hope to influence and involve their local communities to follow suit.

“We worked with communities and started to see an increase in forage production by two to eight times and a tremendous reduction in bare ground,” said Huggins Matanga, leader of the ACHM Hub in Zimbabwe. “Putting livestock together created better security [for the animals] and improved the condition of the livestock too. These are some of the good things that the communities are realising.”

Brittany Cole Bush, a shepherdess and project manager for an out-grazing initiative in California, talked about the need to engage with and educate urban populations. She is doing this by grazing livestock on public lands where people from the city visit and it creates a talking point with people about where their food comes from.

The Savory institute’s medium term goal is to partner with more than 100 organisations over the next 10 to 12 years in order to offer educations and training services as a means to impact and support the implementation of regenerative land management.