The following post is a travel log by Spencer Smith:

In late April,  I traveled to the Sacramento Valley twice to do some monitoring with Peter Donovan and was invited to a two-day holistic management round table discussion on the land west of Red Bluff, Calif. I had a wonderful time working with holistic management professionals from all over Northern California.


The Soil Carbon Challenge

First, I went  to Oroville, Calif., to meet with Dr. Cyndi Daley and Peter Donovan and to learn more about the Soil Carbon Challenge.  Peter drove his converted school bus to Dr. Daley’s “Guidici Ranch,” south of Oroville.  He set up some transects for the Soil Carbon Challenge. The Soil Carbon Challenge is an international (and localized) prize competition to see how fast land managers can turn atmospheric carbon into soil organic matter.   It was a great experence for me to see how Peter measures soil carbon and to hear more about producers all over the world who are using Holistic Management to increase their production, water holding capacity, and soil carbon.

Holistic Management Gathering

Later that week I traveled to Red Bluff to participate in a rancher to rancher type holistic management round table discussion and field walk.  There I met with Peter Donovan again and also: Bill and Kay Burrows, Frank and Vicki Dawley, Richard King, James Komar, Kelly Mulville, Erin Walkenshaw and members of the Tehama County Natural Resource Conservation Service.  There, we discussed issues on the two ranches, one was predominantly a game and pasture cattle ranch while the other is a diversified cattle and pastured poultry operation.  We  toured and helped the owners brainstorm possible actions they could take to help improve the function of the ecosystem processes on their ranches. Their objectives were to build habitat for animals, wildlife and livestock–decrease run off and erosion and build the soil’s water-holding capacity. The group discussed various cover crops that could be used to reach these objectives. On the Burrows Ranch, safflower is used for dove feed and daikon radishes are added to a seed mix to help break the capped clay soils. Many perennials were observed. We discussed annual grasses that could be added to the cover crop cocktail, that would establish quickly and benefit the range–both in and on the soil.

On both the Burrrow’s and Dawley ranches, Holistic Management has been practiced for many years and it was great to see their successes. The soils in Tehama County have a reasonably high clay content and it is an incredibly brittle environment, but through careful management and an understanding of ecosystem process they have managed their properties to be more productive, dynamic, and diverse considering both plants and animals.  They have both seen improvements of the soil’s water-holding capacity, increases in the creek flow and the number of perennial plants on their range. These are all indicators of improving ecosystem processes.  My hat is off to these great ranching families who, though their hard work, have seen increased returns to their economic, environmental and social bottom lines.

I enjoyed being part of this sort of activity and am looking forward to hosting one on our ranch in Fort Bidwell.   The experiences and expertise that everyone brought to the table made for a fascinating conversation and really helped all of us think about holistic management though another operation’s context.

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