On the Farm: Understanding Holistic management


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Categories: On The Farm

Holistic Management is a Whole Farm/Ranch Planning System that helps farmers, ranchers and land stewards better manage agricultural resources in order to reap sustainable environmental, economic, and social benefits. This “triple bottom line” of benefits can be achieved by the management of current resources. Whether land is used for ranching, food production or public land conservation, its health can be improved and its productivity greatly increased without large infusions of cash, equipment or technology. Holistic Management is a dynamic system, and in the truest sense, holistic — it can be evolved to incorporate new sustainable farming/ranching management and production techniques.

H M has been in Western Canada for about 30 years. That is a relatively short time for a new concept. The term H M is well known but I suspect there are many people who do not understand what H M is. Lack of understanding can generate fear. If you have heard the term, if you would like to understand what H M really is, if you would like to know instead of going on half-truths or rumours read on.

H M is a decision-making process. In a nutshell that’s it. Since H M is a decision-making process it can be used by anyone who makes decisions. The last time I checked that would include all of us.

The H M process begins by having all the people involved in a given situation come together and develop a common goal or vision. The goal is not set to be achieved but to give us long-term direction. Life will have its challenges, there will be good times and bad but through it all we can use our goal to give us direction. It becomes a very powerful tool that allows us to say “yes” to things that lead toward our goal and “no” to things that lead away from our goal. Our goal is a most valuable tool for finding balance in our lives.


The goal has three different areas. It has a quality of life portion which deals with all the people issues. While developing the goal people are asked to respond to questions like: What is most important to us? What are our values? How do we define success? How do we treat each other?

The second portion asks us two basic questions. What are we going to do to ensure that we achieve our quality of life? Doing something to ensure our quality of life is not something we are used to. This is a vital step and must not be missed. Most people write something about having good relationships, harmony and love. You can be sure this won’t happen without setting some time aside to make it happen. The second question asks: what are we going to produce to be profitable? To stay on the land and have long-term success we need profit. Profit not production should be our goal.

The third portion of our goal again asks us two questions. What does our land need to look like to allow us to be profitable in the short term and sustainable in the long term? At this stage we consider the ecosystem building blocks. We describe our farm having healthy land under ideal circumstances. The second question asks: what do we want our local community to look like in 100 years? Once again we describe our local community far into the future in ideal terms.

Our goal is now complete. We now use our goal to make our decisions. To aid us in this we have seven testing questions. We now have a balanced way to make decisions that will take us in the direction of our goal. Life is not happening to us. We are creating the future we desire by making better decisions. This seems like a great definition of success!!

Once our goal is established H M gives us tools to help us move in the direction we have chosen. Holistic financial planning is one of the tools. Here we do a detailed financial plan focusing on profit. There are several things that are unique about H M financial planning. These include:

  1. Our financial plan is closely tied to our goal.
  2. Planning for the future. We are not recording what has happened. When you record what has happened it is “set in stone.” Whether it is good or bad it cannot be changed. We are recording what we want to have happen in the future. Since the future has not happened if we get a result we do not like we are able to replan until we get the result we desire.
  3. Setting our profit at the start of the year. So often in agriculture people work for a whole year hoping there will be some profit left at the end of the year. You are much too important to use this type of approach. In H M we define profit as an increase in net worth. Normally our living expenses are included with our other expenses. Profit is a return on our investment and a return to our management skills. What the number should be is entirely up to you. The profit might range from a few thousand dollars to a million or more depending on the operation. The important thing is to set a profit that you are satisfied with at the start of the year. We then plan to make it happen.
  4. Spending our expense money more wisely. H M teaches that all expenses are not equal. Some expenses are like an investment, some are essential and the balance are regular expenses. We have a system that allows us to sort our expenses so we spend more on the investment expenses and less on the regular expenses.
  5. Monthly monitoring. We will monitor our financial plan monthly to be sure we are on track. Small deviations from our plan are controlled. In the case of a major deviation we will do a replan. The end result is a high degree of confidence that we will achieve our desired profit.


The second tool available to us is the planned grazing process. Some of the key points are:

  1. Our grazing plan is closely tied to our goal.
  2. We stop overgrazing. Overgrazing occurs by staying too long at one time or returning before plants have fully recovered from the previous graze. By having a short graze period and allowing full recovery before a second graze, overgrazing is eliminated. The result is healthier land and more production from a set land base.
  3. We focus on improving the ecosystem building blocks. The building blocks are energy flow, water cycle, mineral cycle and succession. These are all closely linked. As the building blocks improve we have healthier land and more production.

The Benefits of H M

  1. A better quality of life. People tend to be happier and enjoying life more. Even more importantly life is not happening to them. People are creating the future they desire.
  2. Healthier land. The ecosystem has improved. The result is more production from a set land base.
  3. Lower expenses. This is due to healthier land.
  4. Increased profit. This is due to healthier land.
  5. Less work. H M encourages us to work with nature. As this occurs it is possible to have more animals and less work.

H M is a tested and proven system. It has a 30-year track record in Western Canada. I invite you to investigate H M. I believe you will be pleased with your investigation.

via CanadianCattleman

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