Australian Holistic Management Cooperative

Background to Holistic Management and the 2017-18 AHMC Project

What is Holistic Management?

Holistic Management (HM) is a decision-making approach that helps farmers move towards the future they personally hold dear through ensuring their actions are financially, ecologically and socially sound. Holistic Management helps famers deal with the complexity and risks of the natural and human systems they face.

HM is not a farming system, but it leads many practitioners to a healthier and more resilient family, a stronger community, and a farm ecosystem with the capacity to sequester carbon and a desire to rebuild biodiversity.

Allan Savory pioneered Holistic Management in the 1970s, which is now being applied around the world, particularly in Africa and the United States. He founded the Savory Institute as a way of increasing worldwide understanding of the principles of Holistic Management, and raising public awareness of the impacts of loss of grasslands and increase in desertification.

In Australia, accredited Holistic Management educators have trained thousands of farmers in this approach, including through a nationally recognised Diploma of Holistic Management. Some of the methodologies being used by these farmers are documented as contributing to a new approach to regenerative agriculture as in [Soils for Life 2012].

The importance of farm management practices to healthy farmers, agriculture and biodiversity is now being understood. When discussing carbon-rich or carbon-poor soils, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization states: With climate change and unsustainable management, these areas are likely to become net sources of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions. However, if managed wisely, they have the potential to sequester large amounts of carbon in their soils, thus contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation [FAO 2017].

Soil scientist Christine Jones, founder of Amazing Carbon, states: Appropriately managed farmlands could effectively 'mop up' most of the excess carbon being emitted to the atmosphere, converting a potential hazard into an extremely productive opportunity [Jones 2007].

The role of management in boosting soil organic matter, and thus soil organic carbon, is reflected in the work of two CSIRO scientists, Clive Kirkby and John Kirkegaard. They present two alternatives: One is to manage your livestock so that they spread their nitrogen rich manure and urine around the pastures, giving those microbes that added boost they need. Another option is compost. Farms that apply compost have more soil organic matter and store more carbon in the soil [Voth 2017].

Farmers managing holistically instil measurable environmental KPIs into their business plans. Holistic Management not only encourages such effective management regimes, it embeds monitoring practices to avoid substantial deviation from the expected positive results.

Due to the complexity of weather, other natural forces, society and finances, farmers and graziers can face significant challenges and risks which can contribute to mental ill-health. ABC News tested public claims about suicide rates and explained the complexity of measuring farmer suicides [ABC Fact Check 2014]. The claim that one farmer dies by suicide every four days is based on data from the 1980s and 1990s. Newer data shows that farmers' suicide rates are elevated when compared to the general public, however the rates differ dramatically across regions.

Taking a Holistic Management approach can reduce the level of risk faced by farmers, because it allows them to work through the complexity of the challenges they face and brings that complexity down to a manageable level. It provides the means to achieve what practitioners want, reducing risk across all three crucial areas, ecological, financial and social.

The Australian Holistic Management Cooperative will seek to work with and build on the efforts that have already been active for some 20 years in similar directions. Groups working in these areas include:

Project Activity Components

The Holistic Management Co-operative Project had several components:

Quality Assurance (QA)

To research, develop and pilot a quality assurance scheme for farmers to use that identifies their products as Holistic Management produce. In future the system could be extended to other practitioners of regenerative farming.

Reference Group (RG)

To form a group of approximately 20 Holistic Management practitioners to: This component is aimed at working with enthusiastic HM practitioners to ensure the QA scheme is relevant and applicable, as well as investigating and reporting on the application of HM to address other related, well-known and serious aspects of farm family businesses.

Marketing and Promotion (MP)

To research, develop and promote a new brand for Australian food and fibre produced using Holistic Management precepts/approaches and regenerative agriculture, based on the Quality Assurance and Reference Group activities. Promotion activities will draw on the reach of social media and integrated website design.

Training Innovations Pilot (TIP)

To research, develop and trial a new approach to training farmers (in HM) suited to their learning styles, with the proposed incentive of a market premium based upon measured criteria for regenerative agricultural practices. This is aimed at greatly increasing the uptake in HM, and proposing a more efficient and motivational approach to training adoption and implementation. Our capacity to design and deliver training innovations will depend on the resources required for the other three project components.

Developing HM Brand Recognition

The Holistic Management Cooperative will generate significant scope and scale of on-farm impacts by building brand recognition and developing a sustainable base for expanding the group of Australian practitioners. Already many Australian practitioners have been trained to use the principles of Holistic Management, but now the challenge is twofold:

1) How do these practitioners gain access to a market premium in recognition of their care for biodiversity and personal and social welfare?

2) How can the number of Australian practitioners be greatly expanded on a sustainable basis?

Under the proposal for the Holistic Management Cooperative, these two challenges can be addressed simultaneously, by building brand recognition for Holistic Management, based on effective quality assurance and consultation with experienced Australian farmers.

Holistic Management farming is now at a stage that Organic produce certification was at more than a decade ago, with little public and consumer recognition of the value of this approach to agricultural production for meeting the consumers' needs and desires for better produce.

In a news report from ABC Rural, IBIS World analyst, Mr Nick Tarrant said of organic produce The premium is about one-and-a-half to two times more for an organic product over an equivalent non-organic product. Further, he said the sector grew 17 per cent in five years, due to a flood of farmers entering the market [ABC Rural 2016].

Branding of Holistic Management produce aims to allow producers to gain benefits similar to those that have been built for organic produce and to provide a sound quality assurance base for Australia's 'clean, green and environmentally friendly credentials'. The aim of the Holistic Management Cooperative is to gain consumer acceptance of more than 10% of the Australian domestic agricultural market for produce with the Holistic Management Brand.

The process for developing such recognition was begun by the international Savory Institute's coordinated international event, on the theme of "Eat it, Wear it, Regenerate it, Ignite a Consumer Revolution".

In Australia, this event was co-ordinated and built upon by the Dubbo Holistic Management conference on 5 November 2016, hosted by Hooves 4 Humus, a Savory Institute Hub and the Australian Holistic Management Educators group.

In 2012-13, the value of Australian farm and fisheries food production was $42.8 billion [Department of Agriculture 2014]. The Holistic Management Cooperative will be working towards the goal that 10% of this production is delivered using Holistic Management principles.

It will work to achieve consumer recognition that Holistic Management is delivering the sustainability and regenerative approaches which mean that Australian agriculture is helping to repair the planet, for instance by building soil vitality. Some of the price premium currently applying to produce labelled Organic is due to consumer demand for more ecologically friendly agriculture.

The branding of Holistic Management produce will seek to educate consumers about its financial, ecological and social benefits based on effective quality assurance and thus attracting strong premium price recognition. If a premium of just 20% at farm gate could be achieved on 10% of Australian agricultural production, then that could be worth $800 million a year in additional turnover to those involved and committed producers.

Developing HM Quality Assurance

Effective Quality Assurance is the backbone of the Australian Holistic Management Cooperative Project. Our activities will relate to international developments in quality assurance for food production. These developments present both a major opportunity and a substantial threat to Australian markets for food and fibre (both domestic and export).

For instance, Australia has been building markets for the export of food in the Asian region, such as the fast growing market for milk products in China. [Phillips 2016] Such growth has been based around strong Australian regulations for food quality assurance as well as Australia's reputation for 'clean and green' production.

As part of the National Food Plan, the Australian Government has said: Emphasising the quality of Australian food and finding ways to more clearly identify our clean, green and environmentally friendly credentials will allow exporters to benefit from our valuable national brand [Department of Agriculture, 2016].

But the key challenge is to maintain and develop the reputation of Australian production in the face of international competition both in export and domestic markets. A prime example of international developments is the creation of the Savory Institute's Land to Market Program, currently in pilot stage. It will include a foundation of "Ecological Outcome Verification" as well as potential branding of product through the value chain.

If Australia does not take account of such international developments then our markets (export and domestic) for agricultural produce are at risk from produce with better quality assurance credentials. But we have a prime opportunity to take advantage of these developments and become a participant at an early stage.

Australians were introduced to the themes of Eat it, Wear it, Regenerate it, Ignite a Consumer Revolution behind the Australian Holistic Management Cooperative at the Dubbo Holistic Management conference in November 2016, linked to the Savory Institute's coordinated international event. The Land to Market Program has the potential to satisfy key objectives for the Australian Holistic Management Cooperative Project, by providing access to quality assurance mechanisms and market channel and brand development. Land to Market has been in development for the last three years.

The Cooperative Project is already working closely with the Savory Institute and the Hooves to Humus (Savory Institute) Hub in New South Wales to ensure our project can take full advantage of the Land to Market Program.

Involvement in our Reference Group has already attracted substantial interest. Reference group members will participate in a two-way consultation and training process relating to the development of the Australian Holistic Management Cooperative and its brand, quality assurance processes, and other activities.