Carolyn won’t be wielding any test tubes with us.
Great to have Carolyn Mann joining our sustainable grazing team, working remotely from Ottawa. Carolyn is finishing up her Masters at Dalhousie’s Agricultural Campus in parallel with this part time research contract. Her Masters sees her combining soil testing with farmer interviews about soil quality. She won’t be wielding any test tubes in her work with me, however. Carolyn will be launching the third stream of our Reconciling HM SSHRC project: talking to HM trainers to understand whether HM farmers are born, or made. Welcome aboard.
Factions in Savory-citers based on bibliometric coupling.
There has been a great irony in my first sabbatical: it has been publication-free. More things in process than I can easily monitor but nothing in hand. Until today, barely three weeks before sabbatical end. Phew! Today the first paper is out in Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems from my SSHRC-funded project on adaptive grazing approaches like holistic management. This paper, Who’s afraid of Allan Savory? Scientometric polarization on Holistic Management as competing understandings, is based on Carlisle Kent’s bibliometric work on HM in the summer of 2015. This used papers citing Allan Savory’s work on HM, as found in Web of Science, to understand the structure of research on the topic. General descriptives allowed us to see the changing nature of that work, geographically and in terms of discipline. Bibliometric coupling revealed distinct factions in terms of the kind of work being used to support papers (i.e. the reference lists) and that those factions seemed to align with disciplines as well as positions on HM. A number of recommendations are discussed around how farmers, advocates, researchers and policy-makers can work to resolve the competing understandings.
Don Ruzicka, the sage, explains what he does and why to colleague John Parkins and U of A grad students.
Great to be here in Alberta and finally getting boots on the ground at some Canadian farms using Holistic Management or its variants. Tuesday we met farmers Steve and Amber Kenyon at Greener Pastures near Busby, at their custom grazing operation, as well as their farming friends from Athabasca, Rusty and Agnes. Steve calls what he does ‘sustainable grazing’ and combines ideas from a range of thinkers including Allan Savory, as well as running his own training. Later that day we met former HM trainer Noel McNaughton, and the next day one of his star students, Don Ruzicka at Sunrise Farms, over near Wainwright. The weather is apocalyptic, but there is nothing like getting into the field, talking to people and looking at landscape to help you shape research so it really matters.
A great primer on rangeland science as well as scientific hubris more generally.
I had a sunny lunchtime meeting with Nathan Sayre when I was in Berkeley a few weeks ago, and ordered his new book as soon as I got back. While I regularly devour fiction within days, rarely do I do it with non-fiction, which can be more of a plod with pencil in hand. But Sayre’s volume was a good read, as well as being a book that I needed to read. I have stumbled somewhat into rangeland research, through my post-doc in Australia, and now my new research on livestock grazing, including fieldwork in the Falklands. But I don’t have a rangelands background. Sayre’s book thus played a remedial role for me, as well as placing some of the scientific chauvinism that I have experienced in a broader context.
Ever the geographer (Sayre leads the UC Berkeley Department of Geography), the recurring theme is one of scale, including the poor fit between the scale of rangeland science (i.e. experimental plots and fields) and the scale of rangeland management. Moreover, however, he brings a critical perspective to unexamined assumptions and justifications in the study and administration of rangelands: governance can drive management priorities of land (e.g. overgrazing is great for fire control); that no commons can be sustainable; that equilibrium is inexorable and singular; or, that fences are better than shepherds. Sayre also illustrates the hubris of ‘command and control’ approaches to landscape, such as species eradication.
Allan Savory gets perhaps surprisingly little attention, but what is given is insightful. Sayre contrasts the grassroots though fringe popularity of Savory’s holistic management, which proceeds despite the alarm of range scientists, with the forceful, colonial and paternalistic division of rangelands in places like Africa (that can lead to violence e.g. when drought pushes former pastoralists against imposed fencelines):
Holistic management’s popularity raises the possibility that a scientifically flawed theory–if willingly embraced rather than imposed–may in some cases induce improvements in range management for reasons that cannot be–or at least have not yet been–reducible to controlled experimental testing (p. 208, italics in original)