, a method of organic farming
that has its basis in a spiritual world-view (anthroposophy
, first propounded by Rudolf Steiner
), treats farms as unified and individual organisms, emphasizing balancing the holistic
development and interrelationship of the soil, plants, animals as a closed, self-nourishing system. Regarded by some proponents as the first modern ecological farming system, biodynamic farming includes organic agriculture's emphasis on manures and composts and exclusion of the use of artificial chemicals on soil and plants. Methods unique to the biodynamic approach include the use of fermented herbal and mineral preparations as compost additives and field sprays and the use of an astronomical
sowing and planting calendar.
The development of biodynamic agriculture began in 1924 with a series of eight lectures on agriculture given by Rudolf Steiner
at Schloss Koberwitz
in what was then Silesia
, (now in Poland
east of Wrocław
). The course was held in response to a request by farmers who noticed degraded soil conditions and a deterioration in the health and quality of crops and livestock resulting from the use of chemical fertilizers. An agricultural research group was subsequently formed to test the effects of biodynamic methods on the life and health of soil
, plants and animals
In the United States
, the Biodynamic Farming & Gardening Association
was founded in 1938 as a New York
In Australia the first biodynamic preparations were made by Ernesto Genoni in Melbourne in 1927 and by Bob Williams in Sydney in 1939. Since the 1950s research work has continued at the Biodynamic Research Institute (BDRI) in Powelltown, near Melbourne Australia under the direction of Alexei Podolinsky. In 1989 Biodynamic Agriculture Australia was established, as a not for profit association, to promote the practice and understanding of Biodynamic Agriculture in Australia. The association is a member of the Organic Federation of Australia and is registered with FarmBis and as a VETAB Training Provider. In this capacity it provides workshops and field days on a local and national level, for beginners and specialist areas such as biodynamic viticulture. It has well over 1100 members and has local and regional groups throughout Australia. It publishes the biodynamic journal News Leaf quarterly and is the largest organic growers association in Australia.
Today biodynamics is practiced in more than 50 countries worldwide. The University of Kassel has a dedicated Department of Biodynamic Agriculture.
Biodynamic method of farming
Biodynamic agriculture conceives of the farm as an organism, a self-contained entity with its own individuality. "Emphasis is placed on the integration of crops and livestock, recycling of nutrients, maintenance of soil, and the health and well being of crops and animals; the farmer too is part of the whole. Cover crops
, green manures
and crop rotations
are used extensively. The approach also attempts to consider celestial (i.e., astrological
) influences on soil and plant development and to revitalize the farm, its products, and its inhabitants.
Steiner prescribed nine different preparations
to aid fertilization
which are the cornerstone of biodynamic agriculture, and described how these were to be prepared. The prepared substances are numbered 500 through 508, where the first two are used for preparing fields whereas the latter seven are used for making compost
. Though most studies have shown relatively little direct effect of the preparations on soil structure, or on compost development beyond accelerating the initial phase of composting, some positive effects have been noted:
- The field sprays contain substances that stimulate plant growth include cytokinins.
- Some improvement in nutrient content of compost.
Field preparations, for stimulating humus
- 500: (horn-manure) a humus mixture prepared by filling the horn of a cow with cow manure and burying it in the ground (40–60 cm below the surface) in the autumn. It is left to decompose during the winter and recovered for use the following spring.
- 501: Crushed powdered quartz prepared by stuffing it into a horn of a cow and buried into the ground in spring and taken out in autumn. It can be mixed with 500 but usually prepared on its own (mixture of 1 tablespoon of quartz powder to 250 liters of water) The mixture is sprayed under very low pressure over the crop during the wet season to prevent fungal diseases. It should be sprayed on an overcast day or early in the morning to prevent burning of the leaves.
Both 500 and 501 are used on fields by stirring about one teaspoon of the contents of a horn in 40–60 liters of water for an hour and whirling it in different directions every second minute.
Compost preparations, used for preparing compost, employ herbs which are frequently used in medicinal remedies:
- 502: Yarrow blossoms (Achillea millefolium) are stuffed into urinary bladders from Red Deer (Cervus elaphus), placed in the sun during summer, buried in earth during winter and retrieved in the spring.
- 503: Chamomile blossoms (Matricaria recutita) are stuffed into small intestines from cattle buried in humus-rich earth in the autumn and retrieved in the spring.
- 504: Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) plants in full bloom are stuffed together underground surrounded on all sides by peat for a year.
- 505: Oak bark (Quercus robur) is chopped in small pieces, placed inside the skull of a domesticated animal, surrounded by peat and buried in earth in a place where lots of rain water runs past.
- 506: Dandelion flowers (Taraxacum officinale) is stuffed into the peritoneum of cattle and buried in earth during winter and retrieved in the spring.
- 507: Valerian flowers (Valeriana officinalis) are extracted into water.
- 508: Horsetail (Equisetum)
One to three grams (a teaspoon) of each preparation is added to a dung heap by digging 50 cm deep holes with a distance of 2 meters from each other, except for the 507 preparation, which is stirred into 5 liters of water and sprayed over the entire compost surface. All preparations are thus used in homeopathic quantities. Each compost preparation is designed to guide a particular decomposition process in the compost heap.
One study found that the oak bark preparation improved disease resistance in zucchini.
Treatment of pests and weeds
Biodynamic agriculture sees the basis of pest and disease control arising from a strong healthy balanced farm organism. Where this is not yet achieved it uses techniques analogous to fertilization for pest control
and weed control
. Most of these techniques include using the ashes of a pest or weed that has been trapped or picked from the fields and burnt. A biodynamic farmer perceives weeds and plant vulnerability to pests as a result of imbalances in the soil.
- Pests such as insects or field mice (Apodemus) have more complex processes associated with them, depending on what pest is to be targeted. For example field mice are to be countered by deploying ashes prepared from field mice skin when Venus is in the Scorpius constellation.
- Weeds are combated (besides the usual mechanical methods) by collecting seeds from the weeds and burning them above a wooden flame that was kindled by the weeds. The ashes from the seeds are then spread on the fields, then lightly spray with the clear urine of a sterile cow (the urine should be exposed to the full moon for six hours), this is intended to block the influence from the full moon on the particular weed and make it infertile.
Biodynamic agriculture has focused on open pollination of seeds (permitting farmers to grow their own seed) and the development of locally adapted varieties. The seed stock is not controlled by large, multinational seed companies.
Trademark protection of term biodynamic
The term Biodynamic
is a trademark held by the Demeter
association of biodynamic farmers for the purpose of maintaining production standards used both in farming and processing foodstuffs.(This is not a trademark held privately in New Zealand) The trademark is intended to protect both the consumer and the producers of biodynamic produce. Demeter International
is an organization of member countries; each country has its own Demeter organization which is required to meet international production standards (but can also exceed them). The original Demeter organization was founded in 1928; the U.S. Demeter Association was formed in the 1980s and certified its first farm in 1982. In France
certifies biodynamic wine
. In Egypt
has created the Egyptian Biodynamic Association (EBDA), an association that provides training for farmers to become certified.
Studies of efficacy
Studies have compared biodynamic farming methods to both other organic methods and to conventional methods. Yields and soil quality have generally been found to differ little from those of other methods of organic farming, significantly from conventional farming methods.
- A study of the effect of biodynamic preparations on compost found that biodynamically treated compost contained 65% more nitrate than untreated compost, as well as significant differences in microbial life, temperature of compostation, carbon-dioxide respiration.
- A 1993 study compared soil quality and financial performance of Biodynamic and conventional farms in New Zealand. The study reported that, "The Biodynamic farms proved in most enterprises to have soils of higher biological and physical quality: significantly greater in organic matter, content and microbial activity, more earthworms, better soil structure, lower bulk density, easier penetrability, and thicker topsoil." The biodynamic farms were just as financially viable on a per hectare basis. The study compared biodynamic farms with adjacent conventional farms, but didn't attempt to compare farms of similar size, or with similar crops.
- A further study investigated whether biodynamic preparations had any effect on the yield and growth of lentil and wheat crops, weed populations and soil fertility in the short term. The study found that general, soils and crops treated with biodynamic preparations showed few differences from those not treated". Plots tended with biodynamically treated compost produced results for yield, crop quality and soil fertility that were similar to those tended with non-biodynamic composts and NPK fertilizers. Some alteration was observed in the nitrogenous chemistry of the soil and grain where biodynamic field sprays were applied, however the study did not ascribe or discern any biological significance to the difference. Among the variables considered by the study, some measured outcomes correlated with biodynamic field spray usage, including a higher per-unit biomass yield ratio for lentils and a lowering of carbon and crude protein contents in wheat grains. The study's conclusion remarked that "any additional short-term benefits from biodynamic preparations remain questionable.
- A long-term study conducted at a commercial vineyard in California compared vineyard blocks treated with biodynamic preparations alongside those tended with general organic farming methods, to examine effects upon soil and crop quality. "No differences were found in soil quality" during the first six years of the study, and analyses of other indicators including the yield per vine, clusters per vine, cluster and berry weight also showed there were no differences. The study did find a statistically significant (p-value < 0.05) difference in the yield-to-pruning weight ratio, indicating an "ideal vine balance for producing high-quality winegrapes" for the biodynamically treated crop, but noted the control vines had been "slightly overcropped". In one particular year of the study the biodynamically treated winegrapes had significantly higher Brix and notably higher total phenols and anthocyanins. In conclusion, the study found that biodynamic preparations "may affect" the vine canopy and chemistry, but showed no effects on the soil and tissue nutrient parameters measured in the study.
- A 21-year study by the FiBL Institute in Switzerland compared the agronomic and ecological performance of biodynamic, organic and two conventional systems. The study found that nutrient input in the biodynamic and organic systems was 34 to 51% lower than in the conventional systems but crop yield was only 20% lower on average, indicating more efficient production. The total energy (for fuel, production of mineral fertilizer and pesticides, etc.) to produce a dry-matter unit of crop was 20 to 56% lower for the biodynamic and organic systems, and pesticide input was reduced by 97% (by 100% for the biodynamic system). In regards to soil aggregate stability, soil pH, humus formation, soil calcium, microbial biomass, and faunal biomass (earthworms and arthropods), the biodynamic system was superior even to the organic system, which in turn had superior results over the conventional systems. With the significant increase in microbial diversity in the biodynamic and organic systems, there was a significant associated decrease in metabolic quotient, indicating a greater ability to use organic material for plant growth.
, a biochemist prominent in the early development of biodynamic preparations, developed a process for the bacterial conversion of municipal waste into compost usable in agriculture. The process was first used on a commercial scale in Oakland
in the early 1950s.
In a newspaper editorial, Peter Treue argued that similar or equal results can be obtained using standard organic farming principles (which he also criticized as unproven in efficacy) and that the biodynamic preparations more resemble alchemy or magic akin to geomancy.
In a 1994 analysis, Holger Kirchmann concluded that Steiner's instructions were occult and dogmatic, and cannot contribute to the development of alternative or sustainable agriculture and that many of Steiner's statements are not provable because scientifically clear hypotheses cannot be made from his descriptions (for example, it is hard to prove that you have harnessed "cosmic forces" in the foods). Kirchmann asserted that when methods of biodynamic agriculture were tested scientifically, the results were unconvincing. Further, in a 2004 overview of biodynamic agriculture, Linda Chalker-Scott pointed out that many of the research articles comparing biodynamics with conventional agriculture did not separate the use of biodynamic preparations from practices used in organic agriculture. The term "biodynamic" should not be used interchangeably with "organic" agriculture. Chalker-Scott concluded that "scientific testing of biodynamic preparations is limited and no evidence exists that addition of these preparations improves plant or soil quality in organically managed landscapes.
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