By Kindra Gordon

The agriculture industry is continually facing changes – including transitioning operations from one generation to the next. A “Holistic Management Roadshow” recently crisscrossed South Dakota and challenged producers to think differently – holistically – about their operations as they approach the future.

Holistic management specialists Roland Kroos and Patrick Toomey led the workshop series with presentations in Watertown, Eureka, Chamberlain, Buffalo and Custer during the week of Jan. 7 -11. The roadshow was sponsored by the South Dakota Grassland Coalition and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. 

Montana-based Kroos has been helping farmers and ranchers implement holistic management practices for over 40 years. A former Soil Conservation Service employee, he then worked with Allan Savory at Holistic Management International and for twenty years has operated Crossroads Ranch Consulting. Toomey has joined Kroos as a consultant and is based in Rapid City, SD. His background includes working as a reclamation specialist in the oil and gas industry and working with the InterTribal Buffalo Council. 

At the roadshow presentation held in Buffalo, S.D., on Jan. 10, Toomey explained, “Think of holistic by adding the w in front of it: wholistic...it’s about looking at your operation as a whole.”


Money, Land, 

People

Ultimately, there are three basic categories: money, land and people, noted Toomey, saying, “These are the core to any farm – or really any business.”

Within those categories, Kroos and Toomey suggest the importance is placed on the questions that are asked. Examples: Where are we at financially? What’s the state of the land; is it healthy? 

Kroos notes that when looking at a farm or ranch from the categories of money, land and people, you are not looking at numbers of cows, genetics or production. Rather, you are looking at big picture numbers, land health and people’s quality of life.

Once questions have been asked and considered within the holistic mindset, the decisions or paradigms might shift, suggest this duo.

They explain, “Create a context of what you want your life to be focusing on. Begin with the end in mind…We often shovel money at issues and hope it works.”

Instead, they suggest, “Ask what do you not like doing, or what is the weakest link in the operation, then make changes to better your quality of life.” 

Kroos tells the story of one producer he worked with, who doubled his stocking rate and the grazing plan was going well. But he went bankrupt. Why? Kroos says, the producer was losing money before he doubled the stocking rates and just couldn’t catch up financially. He had not addressed his weakest link. Kroos added, “You have to practice and look at the whole operation. Grazing is great and you can do many things, but it [grazing] won’t fix existing issues. 

Kroos offers this analogy: Are you going to rearrange chairs on the Titanic or are you going to get rid of what’s pulling it down? He says, “You may need to swallow your pride and make hard choices. Be willing to make changes. You must look at financial numbers. If you do that, you can make some profound improvements.”


Action Steps

Tactics that Kroos and Toomey have seen producers use include: getting rid of a  seedstock herd and raising commercial cattle because the financial numbers showed it was much more profitable; crossfencing a pasture into five or six smaller units to get more grazing days; moving calving from February to April and May to cut feed costs by half.

Another example of thinking differently that Kroos and Toomey propose includes adding animal impact – or what they refer to as “gardening” to the landscape. Kroos explains “impact” often has a negative connotation, so they prefer to call it “gardening the land.”

From his experiences in land management, Kroos has seen high impact grazing followed by rest help land actually be more productive. He suggests that to encourage native grasses and forbs to return to pastures and to reduce bromegrass or Kentucky bluegrass, you need 30,000 pound of livestock/acre to create change. 

Likewise, Kroos suggests not keeping hay fields “livestock free.” Instead he advises, “Graze your hayfields. The hayfield will last longer.” 

Why do these tactics work? Toomey says, “Microbes and earthworms can’t jump, so you need to trample and bring that plant material that’s not grazed down to soil and feed them.”

Kroos adds that returning plant material to the soil surface feeds the soil, dents the sealed surface (from hoof action), and presses seeds into the soil. Thus he advises, “Gather your animals together and trod that garden for two days.”

To those producers uncertain about these suggestions, Kroos suggests trying an experiment. “I challenge you this summer to take 300 cows on 10 acres. That’s 30,000 lbs. Maybe leave them there one to three days depending on the feed available. Then rest that area and see what happens.” If it’s on short grass, haul two or three bales out there to get extra time to allow the cattle to break the land up, he adds.

That said, he also cautions, “If you denude the soil and see black, you are holding the livestock there too long. Leaving some plant material is important.”

The bottomline says this duo is to ask questions and look at the big picture in order to make decisions. “You’ve got to plan your profit,” they conclude.


Author’s note: Allan Savory’s book Holistic Management recently released a third edition reprint of the original book. Roland Kroos recommends this newest edition to readers, noting it is much easier to read and comprehend. The book, which has the subtitle, Commonsense Revolution to Restore Our Environment, is available via Amazon.com.