Guest Blog by Wayne Knight
Participating as an instructor and facilitator at HMI’s 5-day workshop with Certified Educators Kirk Gadzia and Linda Pechin-Long in Bernalillo, New Mexico from November 7-11, 2022 was in some ways a trip down memory lane for me because I got to see our participants learn how to really practice Holistic Management and be prepared for getting the results we need to see on the land and in the bank accounts of farmers and ranchers around the world. This school, held at the Santa Ana Pueblo, helped 13 participants who influence 446,100 acres take the next steps toward economic and environmental resilience.
The course brought back memories of attending a workshop series with Dick and Judy Richardson that kicked off my deep dive into Holistic Management in 1997. I had been exposed to density grazing and how critical it was for animals to graze plants and to allow time for grass plants to recover after the grazing animals were present. I had completed over a year of working on ranches and farms in the US and England, but the Richardson’s workshop series was the deep dive I needed to appreciate the elegance of how the different components of Holistic Management fit together.
HMI’s 5-day training led by Kirk, with components covered by Linda and me, aimed to give participants an overview of the theory and planning tools. Kirk used his beautifully crafted case studies to give participants insight into how the holistic goal drives investment, land planning, and expense allocations decisions in line with business priorities while building ecological resilience and wealth. The process helps the user prioritize scarce resources according to their individual situation and preferences. This truly is a unique management framework that helps producers handle complexity with less stress.
HMI’s In Practice School is really a practical guide to approaching your ranching business as a complex living organism and using the holistic goal as the compass and the decision testing questions for effective group decision-making. In turn, these tools help to craft a Holistic Grazing Plan and a Holistic Financial Plan to navigate the complexities that climate, markets, diseases, and life can unexpectedly throw our way.
Thinking back as I traveled home after my first workshop, I had lots of questions and concerns. I was convinced by the insights and the practicality of the planning procedures that had been introduced. I was wondering how receptive my parents would be to these ideas and the change to management that I would be proposing to them. I wondered about the speed of change I should attempt. Should we change radically and get through the discomfort, or would it be more realistic to make gradual changes? How would I convince my father to change what he was so accustomed to doing?
The Power of a Holistic Goal
The concept of a holistic goal was a revelation and made me hopeful that family change was possible, but could we get my parents to change how they did things. I had been back on the ranch for a few years after my travels. Our business financial situation was precarious. Our ecology was not wonderful. A series of droughts leading up to that time meant that we had low animal numbers. I was hopeful that the holistic goal would help us in our discussions
At HMI’s In Practice School Kirk and Linda both emphasized the importance and value of developing a holistic goal. It reminded me of the time my family invested in drawing up our combined holistic goal for the family business. My father couldn’t understand why this airy-fairy process was needed. He had work to do, and this process just didn’t produce the outcomes he expected from our time. His frustrated lament was the “I have a farm to run!”. Not being one to give up easily, I convinced both my parents to attend a Holistic Management training themselves. With us all on the same page the holistic goal came much more easily. It really did provide the impetus needed to address the tough economic crisis that was about to challenge our ranching business.
Finding Firm Financial Footing
At HMI’s In Practice School, Kirk and I also introduced the participants to the Holistic Financial Planning process. It is a unique and compelling process that requires a rigorous analysis of the entire business planning that helps us effectively make decisions about investments that will enable us to grow our biological capital and resilience. We frequently make assumptions about the priorities we have chosen in the past, or habits that we have inherited or created, without thinking through the reasons or the implications.
The Holistic Financial Planning process saved our family business in 1998-1999 when interest rates in South Africa hit 28% per year. With political uncertainty, economic turmoil, and hence depressed spending, the demand for our beef was rock bottom. Holistic Financial Planning and the built-in monitoring process saved us from selling out and moving on.
At HMI’s In Practice School, Kirk led the group through case studies that are brilliantly constructed to help participants step through the Holistic Financial Planning process so they can more effectively prioritize and allocate money to generate more profit and invest in their businesses for continued resilience and regeneration.
This process saved my business from disaster early on, and later propelled us to make investments and spending allocations that built biological capital. Additionally, the planning process encouraged buy in between the decision makers. The built-in feedback loop also meant that we could quickly catch when the plan was going off track and adapt our financial decisions to the current reality before we were in deep trouble.
Only after using the Holistic Financial Planning process could my family make financial decisions effectively as a family, and we survived quite well. I remember by mother repeating that we could not cut costs more, yet we cut our expenses by more than 60% after our Holistic Management training. Under scrutiny, we and our animals were able to survive with far less input than we thought possible. We cut staff and were able to move our cattle more by going to 2 herds instead of the 8 herds we had before. Our finances looked better and our carrying capacity increased dramatically. And, like most crises, the interest rates didn’t stay high forever and the rains did return.
HMI’s In Practice School also focused on Holistic Grazing Planning and included time out on the land. Dan Ginter of the Santa Ann Pueblo’s Department of Natural Resources discussed how the Pueblo used the grazing planning principles and practices to guide grazing rules and decisions by the ranchers involved in the Pueblo’s grazing management. We toured the ranch, observing rangeland health and how to assess available forage for livestock and wildlife.
Please consider how an in-depth training to all the components of Holistic Management could help your farm or ranch perform better economically, environmentally, and socially. 100% of the participants from this course would recommend this school to others. 100% of the participants said they see the value of Financial Planning after taking this course and 100% said they now have the ability to create a Grazing Plan. We would like to thank the Thornburg Foundation for their funding of this Holistic Management school.
HMI will be running another Holistic Management IN PRACTICE School with Kirk and guest presenters at the Dixon Water Foundation’s Leo Ranch on April 17 -22, 2023. Book your spot. We are so sure you will get your money’s worth that we offer a money back, satisfaction guaranteed