What is Biodynamic Farming? Biodynamic farming is an organic farming method. We practice it by combining ancient lunar planting cycles with the use of natural alternatives to everything that conventional farming has normalized5. We replace chemical fertilizers with microbial agents such as bacteria, algae, fungi, mycorrhizal, and actinomycetes. And instead of chemical pesticides, we use natural options such as neem and salt sprays.
Variations of this farming practice have been around for thousands of years. However, as industrial farming rose, farmers using lunar cycles and organic practices found it increasingly difficult to compete with the big players in the market.
Farmers either adapted or stopped growing to sell. We’ve even seen the recent rise of urban agriculture projects. But soon, people began to realize that more wasn’t necessarily better. And there was a need to return to the basics of growing food from the land for simply to eat.
The search for a solution began and Dr. Rudolph Steiner took the lead. He came up with the idea of biodynamic agriculture in 19241. He saw a farm as a living organism. As a result, he thought that it should be fully self-sustainable and self-contained.
This meant that farms should have the ability to thrive on their own3. This should be achievable through creating and maintaining all that it needed. Essentially, it was a clean way of farming and one that did not rely on chemicals or other external man-made influences.
So, following his lecture to farmers in 1924, inspired farmers seeking a new way to farm began to experiment with biodynamic methods. They brought together their scientific knowledge and merged it with all that nature has to offer.
Steiner created the biodynamic farming method, but it took more than the work of one man to become the extensive practice that it is today. Many farmers and researchers have collaborated to perfect this method of farming. As a result, we can now see biodynamic farms and gardens around the world. Researchers have been able to collect data from biodynamic farmers in 50 different countries.
Essentially, we can implement the main principles and practices of biodynamic farming anywhere. To achieve this, we have to consider the climate, culture, and landscape in balance.
Many countries already have regulations in place for biodynamic farming. Demeter International, a certifying body, has 16 member countries that share the same biodynamic farming standards and certification7. All produce from a farm has to meet international standards and verification before receiving a Demeter certification. In the UK, the Biodynamic Agriculture Association holds this role of regulation.
However, there are many other countries without a government-approved certifying body for this form of organic farming.
Although several principles apply to both methods, they are not the same. If a farmer wants to become Demeter certified, they will undergo a two-year (minimum) conversion period. This means that they have to adhere to EU organic regulations during this period2.
Following this, for the farm to achieve biodynamic certification, it will require an extra year of conversion. This gives the farm time to implement the nine mineral and plant-based preparations that are required to enhance soil life and the growth of plants on the land. While the practice needs more scientific research, the current trials suggest that it is credible.
In Switzerland, the FIBL (or Research Institute of Organic Agriculture) carries out DOK (Biodynamic (Deter), organic (O), and conventional (K)) field trials. They consider agricultural topics such as plant production, animal health and husbandry, food quality, and socioeconomics covered and carried out in the context of organic farming.
There are several principles guiding the practice of biodynamic farming. They include:
This involves ensuring the health and vitality of the soil . To achieve this, farmers will grow a range of plants on land that they have not yet cultivated. Through mixing crops, the plants support each other in a specific way. Therefore, if one plant uses a specific nutrient the other plant will release the same nutrients.
Traditional farming practices will follow monocropping while others will adopt crop rotation. The rotation of crops encourages sustainable agriculture6. Through moving crops around fields and also raising a wide range of animal species, it can lead to healthy soil and a reduction in weeds, pests, and parasites.
As far as biodynamic farming methods go, composting is one of the most important . It can help to create healthy soil as the recycled manures and organics waste can help to enhance the soil4. Via spreading, the humus balances nitrogen levels in the soil and that enhances crop productivity.
Using extracts from animal, plant, and mineral manure, there are nine homoeopathic preparations. All of these become a spray and to treat compost as well as plants and soil. Farmers know this process as dynamization.
Six of the preparations are vital to composting while two are used to aid the process of humus stimulation. The final one deals with a fungal disease that is present on crops.
This involves separating biodynamic farming from other agriculture. It is an understanding that not only do biology, physics and chemistry play a role in it, but there are cosmic forces too. These are the phases of the moon as well as celestial and seasonal cycles.
For a farm to be certified biodynamic, inspection and evaluation by the certifying agent will take place. They will identify how well the farm meets organic standards. Essentially, the farm will need to practice organic methods for a minimum of three years. What this means is that they will need to meet certain objectives such as opting to use all-natural fertilizers as well as pesticides.
Along with this, they will also use sustainable processes. This will involve crop rotation, composting, and giving their livestock organic feed. Biodynamic farming treats animals humanely which means that they won’t give the animals any hormones or antibiotics.
In the US, the government also put their National Organic Program in place with set criteria. If the farm meets criteria then it can use the USDA Certified Organic seal. This will validate the legitimacy of its organic products.
Every farm is unique and so, they will all do this. However, the certification is individual to each farm. So, some of the biodynamic standards they have to adhere to will include large-scale composting, not using treated seeds or synthetic substances. Along with this, they will only use pest controls that are plant-derives.
The Demeter Association or the Stellar Certification Services will offer biodynamic certification. The process of which is similar to that of receiving organic certification.
At a time when sustainability drives everything that we do, biodynamic farming could be what we are looking for. Farmers have relied on chemicals and unethical forms of farming for many years but this is different.
With a holistic approach, while adopting ecological and ethical methods, farmers can create a balanced ecosystem. This helps them to create a farm that is diverse and sustainable through natural practices.
Through pruning, cultivating, harvesting, and spraying as well as using other natural practices, we can help to create sustainable agriculture that relies on itself to become a success.
|Paull, J. (2011). Attending the first organic Agriculture Course: Rudolf Steiner's Agriculture Course at Koberwitz, 1924. European Journal of Social Sciences, 21(1), 64–70.|
|Bärbel Tress (2001) Converting to organic agriculture—Danish farmers' views and motivations, Geografisk Tidsskrift-Danish Journal of Geography, 101:1, 131-143, DOI: 10.1080/00167223.2001.10649456|
|Penfold CM , Miyan MS , Reeves TG Grierson IT (1995) Biological farming for sustainable agricultural production. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 35, 849-856. https://doi.org/10.1071/EA9950849|
|L. Carpenter-Boggs, J. P. Reganold & A. C. Kennedy (2000) Effects of Biodynamic Preparations on Compost Development, Biological Agriculture & Horticulture, 17:4, 313-328, DOI: 10.1080/01448765.2000.9754852|
|P K, Sajeesh & Jagdish, Jaba. (2012). Biodynamic Farming: A Way to Sustainable Agriculture.|
|Soil Fertility and Biodiversity in Organic Farming. BY PAUL MAEDER, ANDREAS FLIESSBACH, DAVID DUBOIS, LUCIE GUNST, PADRUOT FRIED, URS NIGGLI. SCIENCE31 MAY 2002 : 1694-1697|
|Caldwell, A. (2012). Biodynamic Farming: Sustainable Solution|
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.