A Tool to Aid Holistic Decision Making

Maggie Donin                                                                                                                     Beginning Farmer Specialist                                                                                                            The Intervale Center

If you have spent any time in the farm world, you have probably come across the words Holistic Management. Some of you may have taken UVM’s Whole Farm Planning Class and others may have read some of Allen Savory’s books or heard lectures on the Holistic Management style of approaching your farm business and production. Others may feel overwhelmed by the terminology or lengthy books on holistic management. I think holistic management has a lot to offer to farmers and that there are ways of incorporating elements of it in to your farm business management if you don’t want to be fully immersed. Holistic management does a great job of asking farmers to identify farm and family goals and prioritize those goals. For more on goals, see the blog post “Staying True to Your Goals” by my coworker Sam Smith from a few weeks ago.

Once a farm has developed goals that have been discussed with the farm team and the farm family, making decisions can be easier because you have something to weigh your choices against. Holistic management asks farmers to pose questions up against potential actions they may take, to really determine if it is the correct action.

Here is a simplHMI-Decision-Tablee exercise that any farm can tackle that will help when making complicated decisions on a farm. It is taken from the holistic management framework and was recently presented to me at a conference. You can use this tool to compare three potential actions that you may take to address a problem on your farm. Click on the chart to enlarge it for easier viwing!

Before approaching this tool, it is important that the farmers identify the real problem they are trying to solve. Problems on the farm can present themselves in many different forms but may come back to the same core problem. Here is an example of this.

Green Tree Farm experienced lots of problems with employees during the 2014 growing season. Employees over-seeded many crops and under-seeded others, harvested under ripe tomatoes, and were not engaged at the farmers market. Green Tree Farm identified this as a major problem from last season for operations on the farm as well as for morale. When asked to brainstorm the root cause of this problem they began by thinking they had this problem because they were hiring people that were too young and that they were letting employees work in groups that were too large, so they were getting distracted. After discussing what other causes of the issues might be the farm owners realized the real cause was that they did not have enough time devoted to training and managing the crew and that they needed to free up their own time to do this. The farm then brainstormed three potential actions they could take to try and improve performance of the crew the following year and used this tool to determine which one they would pursue.

Next time you face a challenge on your farm and brainstorm potential solutions, make sure to address the real, or root cause of the problem and try using this tool to help you.

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