Organic producers learn about holistic management

If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”

This quote, attributed to Yogi Berra, seems to be the central message in holistic planning. To get where you want to be, first set a goal and then test your actions against that goal.

Leonard Piggott, a holistic management trainer from Dysart, Sask., emphasized the importance of having a holistic goal when he spoke at a Regina conference hosted by Organic Crop Improvement Association Research and Education.

“Something about humanity is that until we have a holistic goal or quality of life statement, we keep messing it up,” said Piggott.

“We need the holistic goal to keep ourselves on track. A holistic goal is 100 percent about what you want, and zero percent about how to get there.”

For instance, the goal wouldn’t be about filling a certain number of sand bags; it would be about keeping homes dry.

A holistic goal has three main components:

Quality of life statement

What is really important to you? What motivates you? This is not about the money or the stuff but about what brings you satisfaction and what makes your life worthwhile. Of course, the goal will have to be revised as your unit (family, business, community) evolves.

Form of production

This is where you identify what you must produce to gain the quality of life you want. This isn’t what we normally consider as farming production; it should be kept open ended so as not to limit the options. For instance, if you want a balanced life, you may have to produce good time management. For most people, this will also include producing profit from meaningful work.

Future of resource base


What would your resource base look like if it were to sustain you in the production you describe to achieve the quality of life you want? This includes the land and the people.

Ecosystem processes are especially important parts of the resource base for farmers and ranchers.

They are responsible for the healthy functioning of the land and include water cycles, mineral cycles, energy flow and ecological succession. These all must be healthy to sustain quality of life.

Holistic management considers biodiversity as the key to maintaining water and mineral cycles. Perhaps this is why holistic management is stronger among livestock producers than grain producers.

Grain fields tend to be monocultures rather than places where diversity is encouraged.

“Exports break the mineral cycle, but we (grain farmers) export more soil than wheat,” Piggott said.

The holistic management system features tools to modify the environment, bringing it closer to a desired future resource base. Tools include technology, fire, rest, grazing, animal impact and living organisms as well as two human tools: money/labour and creativity.

These tools, with perhaps the exception of creativity, should be tested before use to be sure they are socially, economically and environmentally sound and that they help producers meet their holistic goals.

Tools shouldn’t be used in a way that interferes with natural cycling in the resource base.

Piggott said producers need to use the tools to address the root causes of our problems rather than just the symptoms.

For example, a person being repeatedly hit in the head with a stick doesn’t need an aspirin; he needs the hitting to stop. Many of our problems are like this once we take a closer look at them.


Monitoring is the final stage of the holistic management system.

Piggott recommended assuming we are wrong and then monitoring the outcomes to catch our mistakes. They can then be corrected, and the process repeated, with more planning, monitoring and correcting. This sort of fine tuning moves the management toward sustainability.

Piggott urged farmers to examine their systems and focus on working with nature and moving through natural succession to more sustainable systems.

Organic principles are based on working holistically with nature and biological cycling. Holistic management may help do it more effectively.


June 24: Agriculture Canada field day at Beaverlodge Research Farm: beekeepers field day. Not specifically organic. For more information, contact Steve Pernal. 780-354-5135, steve.

July 16: Alberta Organic Producers Association, Lamont, Alta. For more information, contact Kathy Petterson, 780-939-5808 or

July 21: Organic Field Day held jointly by Semiarid Prairie Agriculture Research Centre, Swift Current, Sask., and OCIA Saskatchewan Chapter 8. For more information, contact Shannon Chant, 306-778-8291, or Shannon.

July 23: OCIA Saskatchewan Chapter 4, Moose Jaw, Sask., area. For more information, contact Robyn Haman, 306-781-4701, or

July 28: OCIA Saskatchewan Chapter 5, Birch Hills, Sask. For more information, contact Carol Lowndes, 306-327-4753,

July 28: Agriculture Canada field day at Lacombe Alberta. Not specifically organic. Contact Loree Verquin, 403-782-8114, loree. verquin@agr.gc.c a


Brenda Frick, Ph. D., P. Ag. is an extension agrologist and researcher in organic agriculture. She welcomes your comments at 306-260-0663 or e-mail