HM, BSE, and adaptation: a Canadian prairie perspective

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Yestrau, Melisa A.
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In May 2003, the first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was identified in Alberta, and the impact was immediately devastating on farmers and rural communities across Canada. Not only were farmers faced by the impacts of BSE, they were also contending with record low farm incomes, changing commodity prices, and overall rural depopulation. One grassroots adaptation to this rural crisis is the adoption of Holistic Management (HM) by farmers in western Canada. Although growing in popularity, HM has yet to be systematically assessed in the literature. The overall objectives of this study were to characterize HM; to assess to what degree it simultaneously addresses environmental, economic, and social priorities; to examine the impacts caused by the BSE crisis on HM and non-HM producers; and to explore the potential of HM for adapting and dealing with future crises. This was carried out through a questionnaire that was mailed to 784 HM producers across western Canada. Qualitative and quantitative analysis of survey data showed that HM allowed producers to systematically address all three pillars of sustainability (environment, economic, and social). In particular, the social aspect emphasized in the practice of HM was unique compared to other approaches to agricultural sustainability that focus on economic and/or environmental priorities. When comparing HM producers to non HM producers, the HM producers were less impacted by the BSE crisis. Indeed, holistic managers described how the occurrence of BSE and subsequent consequences to the entire industry actually made them more resilient. The key factors that helped HM producers adapt to the BSE crisis were community involvement, within the family and larger community, and farm management. New farm practices, such as rotational grazing, and the HM clubs to support these new farm innovations/practices also aided producers in adapting to the BSE crisis. The results of this study demonstrate the value of alternative community based approaches that address agricultural challenges in a truly holistic and sustainable manner.
holistic, agriculture, management, sustainable, adaptation