What is biodynamic agriculture and how does it differ from organic agriculture?

Discovering this truly holistic and ecological approach to agriculture

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By Max Bender

biodynamic agriculture

Today we are going to discover the principles of biodynamic agriculture and how it differs from organic agriculture, since we often tend to consider them (erroneously) perfectly equivalent phenomena.

When we talk about biodynamic agriculture we should actually be talking about a ‘method of farming’ where it is the whole farm that is a real ‘living’ organism operating in a complex way.

Plants, soil and animals are part of a single system whose relationships balance each other without the need for external inputs, in a cycle where everything is reborn and dies.

It is a method that some believe is even more in tune with Nature than organic farming, even though it still espouses some of its principles – such as the prohibition of the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides -while differing in the use of special herbal and mineral preparations sprayed on plants.

The other distinguishing feature of biodynamic agriculture is that it follows the lunar cycles, both for planting and for work in the fields.

Rudolf Steiner, the father of biodynamic agriculture

The principles of biodynamic agriculture were set by Rudolf Steiner, a philosopher and also the inventor of the Waldorf educational method.

Rudolf Steiner was an Austrian philosopher, social reformer, architect, who founded a spiritual movement: anthroposophy. Always interested in esotericism, he also approached agronomy at the request of farmers of the time with the intention of increasing the production of their land. It was thus that he laid the foundations on which later developed the best-known practices among biodynamic farmers.

In 1924 he held a series of meetings with farmers to find a different solution that did not employ ‘chemical’ additives for breeding and cultivation on farms. Steiner here formulated his idea of biodynamics and developed it further.

The basic principles and tools of byodinamic agriculture

Biodynamic science is based on the supposed knowledge of the forces that govern living things, with a focus on the planets and moons, trying to put the right interconnection between earth and sky.

The basic principle of the discipline stems from the concept that the farm is an organism in its own right in which all its inhabitants are, yes, autonomous elements but interconnected by relationships that enable their mutual survival.

On this basis then the plants, animals and the farmer himself – but also their waste (from animal droppings to the plant parts that remain on the ground after harvest) – contribute to fertilize, nourish and keep the entire eco-system healthy.

The tools used are:

  • lunarium with moon phases
  • preparations
  • bio-diversity

While adopting ancient methods,which have always been used in our fields, often taking cues from permaculture and traditional agriculture, such as crop rotation, cover crops, natural fertilization methods, lunar cycles, and biodynamics, we discontinue from agricultural tradition, however.

He therefore considers the influence of a cosmic dimension to be fundamental on the whole organism-farm and consequently identifies the preparations, plant varieties andmoon phases should intensify its effects.

The balance involving the organism-farm leads to respect for the bio-system and its organisms, which are considered useful. This view means that, for example, there are no weeds to be eliminated because all are useful.

Steiner developed a method that also has implications for the social system. In fact, the community in which the farm is located also becomes a new cultural model of aggregation, where the same principles underlying biodynamics apply.

biodynamic farming

Natural preparations to fertilize the soil

The basis of it all is the use of biodynamic preparations. These are the basic tools for fertilizing the soil because they are capable of transferring cosmic and supernatural forces to the earth. The elements used to create these preparations include herbs and minerals already used in valerian.

This is similar to homeopathic preparations, in which each preparation serves a specific process of decomposition of the soil and the dose is minimal compared to the mass of the organism to be treated.

Steiner identifies 9 types, of which he also gives specific directions on how they are to be obtained.

The most famous preparation (501) involves the use of cow manure, which has preferably calved at least once. The manure is placed inside a horn, also of a cow, buried and left to ferment underground throughout the winter. When it is dug up, it is mixed with warm or rainwater and dynamized, that is, stirred for an hour, creating swirls. Finally, you spread it on the ground with a backpack pump.

Another famous biodynamic preparation is 502. Made from yarrow flowers, it is put into deer bladders after drying them in the sun all summer. It is then buried in the ground.

Yet another example is that of preparation 505. This preparation involves the use of oak bark tied to the skull of a pet, to be soaked in a pool of running water.

Studies have since shown that in fact the micro-organisms and the soil structure itself seem to enjoy positive effects, such as increased fertility and bio-diversity, even speeding up the composting phase, and increased stimulation of plant growth development.

FOCUS: Family farming, feeding the world, caring for the earth

Demeter certification

Biodynamic agriculture has more than 80 years of history and, of course, its certifications. The most important one is released by Demeter.

It is in fact an international label that certifies that food comes from biodynamic farming methods. In fact it constitutes the only guarantee that a wine, cereal or cheese is truly produced following the principles of this ‘philosophy’ of cultivation.

Biodynamic products thus offer dual protection for consumers as they are controlled by both the inspection bodies for organic and Demeter.

Biodynamic farming and organic farming

Those who clearly understand the difference between organic and biodynamic raise your hand! It is often talked about but still unclear. In fact, biodynamic uses the same production method as organic farming, only with a bit more…. magic.

Following the principle of this form of agriculture, fertilization, cultivation and farming are carried out respecting and promoting the fertility and vitality of the soil while protecting the typical qualities of plant and animal species.

The use of synthetic mineral fertilizers and chemical pesticides are abolished, and the soil is managed following cosmic and lunar cycles.Plant materials such as fertilizers, crop rotations, mechanical pest control, and pesticides based on mineral and plant substances are also used.

Every ideal biodynamic farm also has a livestock farm where the manure produced by the animals goes to provide fertilizer. This will be used, after composting, to increase soil vitality.

More information on biodynamic farming

These theories have aroused passion and discussion among those in the field, as there is no scientific basis. The principle on which these preparations are based is very similar to that of homeopathic medicine.

Biodynamic is such a vast and varied subject that the specification is constantly evolving and it is easy to desecrate this ‘unconventional’ method of doing agriculture. More than representing the set of ‘practices,’ it is a real philosophy, if not even a ‘religion.’

But if I told you that one of the largest French wineries is biodynamic, what would you think?