Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pioneering Holistic Management

Terry Gompert, Knox County, NE Nebraska
(Terry on left with George Wagner)

Terry Gompert has been working in agricultural extension service for most of his working life. He has always been interested in Sustainable Agriculture and low cost farming in its various interpretations and has clearly respect for the farmers that he engages with. Its fair to say this is a pretty remote part of Nebraska, and that means its a pretty remote part of the USA! Well to me it is at least, when a Gas station, motel and bakery constitutes as a town!

And it is probably this geographical isolation that has allowed Terry to develop some concepts that colleagues elsewhere may not have have been able to. But of course its not just that - Terry is willing to say what he thinks, and think about what he thinks and it seems Holistic Management is the one area that has continually fuelled him for the past 30 years.

In 1985 he first went to a meeting when Alan Savory - the man who set up the holisitic management framework - did a talk in the locality. He left the meeting thinking "I want nothing more to do with this stuff" as Savory's abrasive style really offended the status quo of conventional grazing management thinking. Equally the problem is a lot of the things holistic management measures, or is willing to consider cannot be quantified in the university system. For example production vs environment vs. quality of life; This is what HM attempts to do, it may be only the first attempt to look at things this way, it will probably evolve.

But 10 years later it started to make a bit more sense to him. He could see that a lot of grazers were having problems making the system pay, that the input heavy corn/soybean rotations put pressure on the land and also that new young blood found it difficult to farm input heavy crops which rely on a lot of bank security - therefore grazing is another avenue for them.

"If I go to a Cropping meeting I know the average age of a farmer wil be 50 plus and that generally the attitude will be one of not particularly wanting to change practices. This is fine - it works for them. If I go to a grazing meeting there will be a lot younger age profile, even women (shock horror!) and the objectives of the farmers are a lot more fluid. For example they will say we want a good quality of life, we don't want to be chained to the bank or in the thrall of chemical companies, we want to produce good quality stock but we also want to build and enhance our environments." says Terry.

This has led to him becoming one of the leading certified educators in Holistic Management and he has taken the time to introduce other farmers to it.

"The key to it all Will, is shaping your holistic goal" he told me "you have to ask yourself, your family and those who work with you. What do I or we want? And once you figure out that then you move on to using various tools which allow you to get there - of which things like mob grazing is one part."

Generally a holistic goal - best described as a Whole-istic goal, as in looking at the Whole operation - will involve things like improving your soil, maybe getting out of debt or better controlling your debt, making sure you have an annual holiday. Heck if you decide you want to have a bulldozer for no other reason than you like driving it put "I will have a bulldozer" in your holistic goal. Thats fine. Essentially its all about management planning - planning for now and for the future.

Terry was kind enough to show me around the area and send me to speak to some of the most interesting farmers in the area, they will follow this.

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