One of several papers that have been bunged up in COVID-related publication delays has finally come out today in Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, Why is grazing management being overlooked in climate adaptation policy?. The article, led by former postdoc Wesley Tourangeau, now at Lincoln in the UK, takes a close look at the two 2018 studies by the Canadian House and Senate of about agriculture and climate change. Despite significant expert advocacy in the evidence-gathering phase about the value of grazing management approaches to climate adaptation, none of that was included in either final report or parliamentary response. Wes took a critical discourse analysis approach to the 112 documents, looking not only at what is said about grazing management but who is saying it, and what that says about power and ideologies. A focus on industry and government voices leads in this case to a focus on expensive, high-tech but low-labour options at the detriment of high-skill and high-labour approaches like grazing management. This techno-fix bias to climate policy pathways closes doors unnecessarily, as the new documentary Kiss the Ground indicates: protecting and rebuilding the soil, as grazing management does, is an important piece of the climate puzzle, not just for adaptation but mitigation, too.
Update: Thanks to Carolyn Mann for telling me that in a moment of synchronicity, rotational grazing was mentioned in the federal budget yesterday (p. 174), viz:
Agricultural Climate Solutions
Farmers are major players in Canada’s fight against climate change. The agricultural sector has the potential to scale up climate solutions, many of which are already underway across the country. Building on Canada’s climate action programs for farmers—including the $185 million Agricultural Climate Solutions program, and the $165 million Agricultural Clean Technology Program—Budget 2021 proposes to:
Provide an additional $200 million over two years, starting in 2021-22, to launch immediate, on-farm climate action under the Agricultural Climate Solutions program. This will target projects accelerating emission reductions by improving nitrogen management, increasing adoption of cover cropping, and normalizing rotational grazing (bold mine).
It’s about time.
Happy to announce another paper out of our Reconciling HM project, based on work Carolyn Mann led after her MSc. Our overarching question for her work has been, “are HM farmers born or made?” and that has indeed been an elusive question to answer. We started by talking to HM trainers across North America, and certainly learned that the paradigmatic shifts are seen as the most important by trainers but also more challenging to teach and to adopt than grazing skills; that work was published in Sustainability last year.
This new paper, recently out in Ecology & Society, used Q method with a set of HM trainers, as well as farmers variously identifying as HM or ‘somewhat HM’. Sorting of statements about farming that were selected as being generically systems or traditional in nature revealed archetypes that reveal the trainers to be firmly systems experts, and trainees to be more weakly aligned with systems thinking though in some cases aspirational. Our question remains: does HM training attract those with the capacity for systems thinkers, which will necessarily be a subset of all farmers, or can it indeed be taught?
Wes Tourangeau’s last day, with a pile of library books to return.
The HM project is winding up, now in its extension year with SSHRC, and that means staffing is starting to contract. Really sad to see postdoc Wes Tourangeau heading out the door this week after 22 months, but happy that he is starting an important new stage of his career as a limited term appointment at Saint Mary’s University. As he leaves he has one paper out and five papers in first or second review–five of those six he led–across a wide range of topics and methods. That pile of library books includes works on the Falklands and its wool economy, statistics, environmental ethics, environmental history and more. I feel very lucky to have had such a rigorous and adaptable scholar work with me for such a duration. Best of luck, Wes!
Archetypal land sparing in the southeastern Australian grazing landscape.
Back in 2014 colleagues at Leuphana and I had a chapter accepted in a volume of Ecological Reviews on Agricultural Resilience: perspectives from ecology and economics. I’m delighted to be able to report that the volume is finally published, five years later. Our chapter looks at the resilience implications of land sharing and land sparing, using as a case study the southeastern sheep-wheat belt where co-author Joern Fischer and I did our postdocs back at ANU in the late 2000s. We compared grazing archetypes of land sparing (fencing out dense woodlands for protection while continuously grazing the rest; see above) and land sharing (farmers using HM, who grazed intensively and rotationally pretty much everywhere on their farms, supporting scattered trees and their recruitment but few dense woodlands; see below). The resilience implications of these options are analyzed, integrating ecology, economics and social dimensions, and consistent with where the broader sharing/sparing debate has settled, reached the conclusion that a diversity of approaches is needed for system-wide sustainability.
Archetypal land sharing in the southeastern Australian grazing landscape thanks to HM to the left of the fence.
Some of my favourite parts of the chapter are the sample quotes included on the social challenges of adopting HM practices that draw from my 2008 photo-elicitation interviews with graziers across a range of practices. They speak to the mundane yet powerful barriers of change that come from our need for relationships and respect: for instance, not having anything to talk to conventional farmers about at BBQs (“what will I open with?”), or having people think they’ve “lost the plot” and feeling the pressure after HM training to “go like a sheep and follow the rest” rather than convert. Such pressures align with some of what we’re hearing from HM trainers, too.
Graphic mind map of our session at Leverage Points 2019.
Wes at Leverage Points 2019
Had some FOMO last week as the Leverage Points meeting was happening in Lueneburg, Germany, led by friends and colleagues like Joern Fischer and Dave Abson. Teaching term did not provide me the space, but Wes Tourangeau attended to talk about our work on grazing in the Falklands, and the idea of Savory’s Holistic Management as a leverage point. We were placed in the ‘transforming food systems’ panel, despite the Falklands agriculture being focused on wool, but Wes reported strong engagement and good feedback to help us polish up those papers. The ‘handmade’ feel of the conference with graphic facilitation of keynotes, session-based mind mapping and cardboard signage, demonstrates the desire to do things differently. By all accounts, it worked.