Archive for the 'Agriculture' Category

Holistic Decision Making as a Habit

November 2, 2014

At a recent beginning farmers trainers conference, one presenter asked the audience of about 50 BF trainers how many had heard of Holistic Management and 80% raised their hands. 40% use it and 15% teach it. This surprised me as I haven’t heard many farmers mention HM. During the three day period, I spoke to many extension agents and consultants, many of whom still farm part-time. When asked about their holistic goals or how they manage for financial success, many responses didn’t include a long term vision nor a solid monitoring plan. How can we teach others this process if we’re not walking the walk? This made me think of different techniques of changing behavior and forming habit that I picked up on the job at WeSpire. Using BJ Fogg’s behavior model as a guide, we can make three simple tweaks to the ability and trigger variables to increase the chance of a certain behavior occur (ie. creating a habit out of HM’s decision making process).

  • Keep goals up to date: our goals may change over time, so it’s important to keep them current if we are to use them as a foundation for making decisions that move us toward our long-term goals. We can increase the frequency of triggers by scheduling time to revisit and update the goals with the whole management team at least once every season.
  • Have decision making guide handy when making decisions: increase ability to access and use the decision making filters when it counts by having the filter spreadsheet (I’ve adapted this for our company use) handy via print outs or easily accessible on your computer. Google Docs is one option, so you can easily share it with coworkers.
  • Keep goals handy when making decisions: increase ability to access and refer to goals when making decisions by having them in front of you either on a print out or online on a Google Doc.

In the end, forming a new habit can be challenging. Have a monitoring plan in place to track progress and check out these additional tips on committing to a new behavior for the long term.

Soil: Schools of Thought

September 1, 2014

Attending many soil workshops and talks recently, I’ve learned a lot. Here’s my paraphrase of the essence of each thought leaders’ message so far.

Elaine Ingham is a leader in soil microbiology and research of the soil food web. At a day-long workshop at NOFA Summer Conference, she emphasized getting the biology right (ratio of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods, etc) by using aerobic compost and tea which will lead to healthier plants and profits. Major insight: better understanding of the relationships in the soil food web.

Cornell Soil Health team put together a four-day workshop on soil health assessment. We visited research and commercial farms, learned about their assessment and testing procedures, and talked through management scenarios. Major insight: most of the time, the chemical aspect of soil is fine. It’s the biological and physical properties that are in a degraded state. We need to assess soil health holistically. Use cover crops!

Christine Jones is an Australian soil ecologist and did a day-long workshop organized by NOFA. Her message was that what drives the soil carbon building process is microbes and more importantly photosynthesis. We briefly touched on the role of ruminants on grasslands. Major insight: We need to become light farmers to put carbon back into the ground.