The “Safe to Fail” Approach to New Practices

Posted on Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 by Tessa Salzman

NCAT’s Soil for Water program recently published a blog on low-risk experiments for farms, which Australian rancher Graeme Hand has coined “safe to fail trials”. The concept highlights the important benefits of learning from peers, in the field, through small-scale trial and error. 

This approach is of particular interest to CalCAN because many of the farmers and ranchers we work with have noted that in order to adopt or expand new practices they would greatly benefit from financial support. However, in the start-up phase, the support needs to come with the flexibility to experiment and with a lower risk of missing grant deliverables. 

Graeme Hand encourages farmers and ranchers to try new methods on a small scale to reduce cost and labor. For example:

“For grazing operations, he recommends stoutly fencing one small paddock, sized to hold the herd for a very brief time…. After packing your stock into the paddock and holding them there a few hours to produce near-total trampling of vegetation, you move the animals out and observe how the vegetation responds during an extended resting period of no grazing for at least several months.”

This extreme disturbance approach successfully shifted plant species according to his design goals. He notes the same approach can be applied in cropping systems as well: 

“For example, farmers could test small patches of cover crops, compare several hand-mixed concoctions of biostimulants, or try managing one small part of their farm organically.”

To learn more, check out the full blog By Linda Poole, Regenerative Grazing Specialist & Mike Morris, Southwest Regional Office Director of NCAT on their website

You can also watch the full video of Graeme Hand explaining how to conduct a Safe to Fail Trial in more detail. 

If you’d like help designing a trial on your farm or ranch, reach out to the Soil for Water team. The Soil for Water network is a growing community of commercial farmers, ranchers, and land managers across the United States interested in regenerative practices and learning how to improve soil water capacity and retention. 


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