Rodger Savory – Restore the water cycles and reverse desertification in California, regenerating 150.000 acres with 600.000 cows

A conversation with Rodger Savory, ecologist, land manager, and ranch owner, about scale and cows, how to kickstart regeneration in desert situations, changing local weather patterns, abundance, soil bacteria, conventional agriculture, WW2 and much more.


This episode is part of the Water Cycles series, supported by The Nest, where we interview the dreamers and doers who are using the latest technology to figure out where to intervene first. They are making or trying to make the investment and return calculations. so what is missing, what is holding us back? Maybe we lack the imagination to back them and try regeneration at scale.

Many millions of hectares of agricultural land around the world have turned into deserts, and many millions are about to turn into deserts with current agricultural practices. Brittle environments (with a rain and dry season) won’t regenerate by themselves when you remove humans, animals. Temperate climates do, they turn into a jungle. And we have a lot of brittle environments around the world.
Our current belief is that a desert will always be a desert, and there is no way to turn it around or regenerate it into abundance. What if there was? What would be the business case? And even more extreme what, if done at the right scale, like at least 150.000 acres in South Eastern California? How would local weather patterns change and would exponential abundance be possible? 


We killed soils, not understanding that soil is a living organism.

”Now, coming back to the biological carpet, what I realized was that the enemy is ultraviolet light. And that is what we had never understood. And as soon as we can protect the sand, the top millimetre of sand from ultraviolet light, then life can begin on the top millimetre. And we know from the electron microscopes and the DNA analysis of soils that they talked about a shovel load of soil having over a trillion life forms in it. But what we now know is that the life forms that live in the top millimetre only live in the top millimetre, the ones that live in the second millimetre only live there, and the third millimetre only live there. Well, if you take a plough and turn the soil over, the ones from the top are now 10 inches down. And the ones from 10 inches down are now up on top, and they will die. So now we’ve got to jumpstart the lifecycle again. It’s okay. How do we protect the microorganisms and the top millimetre from ultraviolet light?” – Rodger Savory

”As soon as we have a biological carpet protecting that top millimetre from ultraviolet light, then life can at least begin. Now, what is the source of a lot of that life? It’s the dung itself. So it’s the dung from cattle that carries the life that can then start on that top millimetre protected by the dung itself…” – Rodger Savory


Rodger says

“It’s a shitload of shit that has to go on the ground. And if you figure one cow eats 12 and a half kg of dry matter per day. So that 12 and a half kg of dry matter that goes into the cow comes out the rear end at some point.”

”So, we need the cow to break up the crusting in the desert and then to mix in the dung into the soil. And then we need a particular layer at the end. […] We have to mix it together and get a layer. So, we also use chickens with the cattle. Because while they’re scratching around looking for maggots, they’re also levelling it out and making it a good even playing field so to speak, turning it into a carpet. And then it’ll dry up. It’ll dry like a solid vegetative carpet: it’ll be like a layer of paper or cardboard across the whole desert. And, by my calculations, looking at how much dung is laid by per cow, and how fast we can move, basically, in rough thumb stick figures, you need about 600,000 cattle to carpet 150,000 acres a year.” – Rodger Savory


Everything in conventional agriculture is about killing, and the only decision a human knows how to make well is how to kill something.

”Every, and I do mean every, decision in current agriculture is about killing. It’s kill, kill, kill, and kill. I hate conventional agriculture. The mindset of a human is the mindset of a flea. Everything is about poison, kill, burn, pull out by the roots. You know, if you look at every robot that’s in conventional agriculture, every decision is about how we kill it. If it’s a fungus, kill it. If it’s a nematode, kill it. If it’s an insect, kill it. If it’s a bird, kill it. If it’s a rabbit, kill it. If it’s a deer, kill it. If it’s an elephant, kill it. Kill, that is the only thing that happens in conventional agriculture. And then we wonder why we’ve got global human populations with health issues. We wonder why we’ve got biodiversity loss and extinction issues…” – Rodger Savory

”There are other things we can do to stop fire without killing everything. And that’s just a silly, small example. But it makes the point: we’re just programmed for killing. And that’s the biggest thing about regenerative agriculture and this project to fix the deserts and turn them back into functioning ecosystems as they were created, because all our ancestors had that same philosophy. Kill, kill, kill. That’s why there’s no mammoth. That’s why there’s no giant bison. That’s why all these species are gone because all of our ancestors had the same DNA genetic code. Kill. And that’s what we’ve got to bring to an end.” – Rodger Savory


Rodger argues that World War II never ended, it just moved to the fields.

”We keep digging the hole deeper in this belief that technology will save us. And that’s all we’re doing. We’re just digging the hole deeper and faster.” – Rodger Savory

”We came out of World War II with bunches of ammonium nitrate from the munitions we needed to dump. So, ‘hey, dump it on fields’. And what people didn’t understand was that the salt is killing the life. And when the salt kills the life that releases the nitrogen. So, even that we misunderstood. And then we had all these bulldozers left from military production. Oh, bulldozers. Oh, that’s a tractor. And then we had all these planes, oh well, that’s spray crops. And then we had all these poisons, Zyklon B, oh, that’s great stuff. So, World War II never ended, it just moved to the fields, and we’ve got the cancer rates now; we’ve got the bare soil, we’ve got the blowing fields; we’ve got the second Dust Bowl here in America…” – Rodger Savory


Koen and Rodger also talked about:

  • The key role of soil bacteria and other soil life and why they don’t have the conditions currently to thrive
  • Using technology to manage large herds of cattle
  • Desertification and its impact on the environment
  • Sustainable meat production and its impact on the environment




Feedback, comments, suggestions? Reach me via Twitter @KoenvanSeijen, in the comments below or through Get in Touch on this website.

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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.

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