Soil Biologist Elaine Ingham Explains the Importance of Holistically Managed Grazing Livestock


I’m doctor Elaine Ingham, I am a soil microbiologist.
I work with the ecology of soils and how the organisms that live in soil interact with
plant roots. Working with bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematoads, microarthopods, micro
fungi, root systems of different types of plants. Trying to understand the beneficial
organisms versus the detrimental organisms, how do we make an environment that’s going
to select for the beneficial’s and against the detrimentals. I think probably when I
was working on my PhD at Colorado State University, there was a large group of people that I was
interacting with the natural resource ecology lab team. We were trying to understand what
these different organisms do in soil, and especially in grazing systems. The whole part
of the NREL is very much focused on grazing, and so started interacting with them, I heard
about Alan Savory at the time, went and saw Alan. When he was at a conference for the
ecological society of America probably. What Alan talks about makes a lot of sense. Alan
spent a lot of time observing nature, and I think he has a lot more validity than many
of those people who have just taken on the academic version and not really tested and
paid attention and observed. Regenerative agriculture can restore communities through
the process of making those communities healthy once again. You have to have healthy human
beings to have a healthy community, where there is enough leisure, there is enough time
within that community to pay attention to children, to pay attention to the old people
and not be on the edge of starvation, not being on the edge of collapse of the local
economy. So regenerative agriculture, because you don’t have to constantly be putting inputs,
constantly be working, constantly having to minor change when a disease comes along, when
a pest comes along, when a drought comes along. All these problems that we have right now,
because we have not been paying attention to the soil, we have not been making certain
that the base of the system is in tact and whole and therefore every step up the ladder
is healthy and whole and when we have that healthy community, healthy soil, healthy animals,
healthy people, then you have time to be taking care of all the important things, all of the
aspects of the community. The role that consumers can play in healing these landscapes of bringing
back a condition of health is to become involved in that actual process of bringing back to
the soil the life that needs to be there. Starting to manage animals in such a way that
they’re impacting the system for short periods of time and then moving along and making certain
that there’s not unremitting damage being done to the soil, being done to the community
of plants, being done to that ecosystem. So that we’re not over stressing a portion of
the system which then starts to degrade and as one part of the system starts to degrade
it has impacts on everything else, even though wee may not have directly impacted that. The
consumer needs to learn the methods of making certain that there’s no overwhelming stress,
no overwhelming damage done to any part…well then it means the consumer has to understand
how ecosystems work and what an ecosystem function actually is and how we manage that
so it’s not damaged. Research can play a role in moving holistic management along by assessing
and understanding the mechanisms by which the management that’s being performed is actually
doing that job. We always need to understand the mechanism, why does having a herd of cows
out on the pasture impact soil health, how exactly are those hooves pushing up organic
matter into the soil and why would that generate a healthier set of microorganisms in the soil.
When will too many hooves, when does it become detrimental instead of beneficial. When we’re
looking at animal grazing, how long between a grazing event. And then taking the animals away. How long does that have to rest before the animals come back and if we just kind of invent a number then we don’t know for sure. We could have brought them back faster and improved productivity and under certain conditions, what are those conditions? You would have to leave the animals off longer or you have a detrimental impact on that life in the soil. So research is an intrical part of this, but it needs to be the practicality, what do we really need to know. To reach the goal of healthier communities, healthier soils, healthier plants. Those questions should be driving the research and not the research being negative or saying something like holistic management can’t possibly work, when in fact there’s a lot of data showing that it does. I think the vision of everybody living in ecosystems, being part of that ecosystem function, interacting and being very well integrated into that whole system. I think probably the best word for living in a green, vibrant, lovely good nutrient cycling, everything is in a condition of health, not stressed. I think that’s paradise. And so, that’s probably really what I’m looking forward to is being able to develop those kinds of situations for human beings, and animals, and plants, the whole system. To exist in those kinds of balances. The role of the Savory Institute and of holistic management plays a catalyst role. The set of information starting this shift in the change to understanding where people work with the environment instead of against Human beings have had this attitude of manifest destiny. Human beings are here to rule the world. We are supposed to be able to take what we need, and that’s absolutely the wrong attitude. We are part of this system, we have to behave as if we’re just one of the pieces working with the rest of the system, and I think the Savory Institute has that function and role to point that out, get people to understand we need to shift this attitude about what human beings are supposed to do on this planet. If you go back to the bible for example, the bible says human beings are supposed to be the gardeners of the planet, we’re the caretakers of the planet. We’re not the almighty monarchs, and we can grab and take what we want without thought for the future. We have to be a part of it, and so I think the Savory Institute and holistic management play a very important role in helping people understand that that’s our role and function.

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