What is Biodynamic Farming

What is Biodynamic Farming and Why is it Important?

What is Biodynamic Farming? Biodynamic farming is an organic farming method combining ancient lunar planting cycles with the use of natural alternatives to everything that conventional farming has normalized5.

Biodynamic farming replaces chemical fertilizers with microbial agents such as bacteria, algae, fungi, mycorrhizal, and actinomycetes. And instead of chemical pesticides, uses natural options such as neem and salt sprays.

Where Did Biodynamic Farming Come From?

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, who was teaching an agriculture course, took the lead. He came up with the idea of biodynamic agriculture in 19241. A now-famous lecture Steiner gave around the same time is often considered the first related to modern organic agriculture. 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 experimenting with biodynamic principles and methods. They brought together their scientific knowledge and merged it with all that nature has to offer.

The Growth of Biodynamic Farming

Steiner created the biodynamic farming method, but it took more than the work of one man to become the extensive practice 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 worldwide. Researchers have collected 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 must consider the climate, culture, and landscape balance.

Is Biodynamic Farming Certified?

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 farm produce must meet international standards and verification before receiving a Demeter certification. As a consumer, you can also look out for the Demeter orange label certifying biodynamic products from certified farms for purchase.

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.

Surely, Organic Farming and Biodynamic Farming Are the Same?

Organic vs Biodynamic Farming
Photo by Hưng Nguyễn Việt

Although several principles apply to both organic and biodynamic methods, they are not the same. Farmers who want to become Demeter certified will undergo a two-year (minimum) conversion period. This means that they have to adhere to EU organic farm 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 biodynamic preparations that are required to enhance soil quality and the growth of plants on the land.

Biodynamic farming focuses on the earth, universe, and nature, all working together in harmony. 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.

What Are The Principles of Biodynamic Farming?

There are several principles guiding the biodynamic practices of biodynamic gardening and farming. They include:

  • Plan Diversity
  • Crop Rotation
  • Animale Life
  • Composting
  • Homeopathic Solutions
  • Life Forces

Plant Diversity

This involves ensuring health, vitality, and soil fertility. To achieve this, a biodynamic farm will grow a range of plants on land 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.

Crop Rotation and Animal Life

Traditional farming practices will follow monocropping, while others will adopt crop rotation. The rotation of crops encourages sustainable agriculture6. Moving crops around fields and raising a wide range of animal species can lead to healthy soil organic matter and a reduction in weeds, pests, and parasites.

Composting

As far as biodynamic farming methods go, composting is one of the most important. It can help to create healthy soil as recycled manures, and organics waste can help to enhance the soil4. Via spreading, the humus balances nitrogen levels in the soil, enhancing crop productivity.

Homeopathic Solutions

There are nine homeopathic preparations using extracts from animal, plant, and mineral manure. For example, one process takes cow manure which is packed into a cow horn and buried over the winter before being applied to the soil. These become a spray to treat compost preparations and plants and soil. A biodynamic farmer knows this process as dynamization.

Six of the biodynamic preparations enable composting, while two aid the humus stimulation process. The final one deals with a fungal disease that is present on crops. These replace traditional chemical-based fertilizers a conventional farm might use.

Life Forces

This involves separating biodynamic farming practices 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 moon's phases and celestial and seasonal cycles, said to promote plant growth when connected with the biodynamic calendar.

What Can you Expect from a Biodynamically Certified Farm?

Brown Cow
Photo by Eric Schroen

An inspection and evaluation by the certifying agent will take place for a farm to be certified biodynamic. 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 which will be measured as a function of soil health, plant quality, and animal welfare. This means that they will need to meet certain objectives, such as opting to use all-natural fertilizers and pesticides.

Biodynamic farming treats animals humanely, which means they won't give them any hormones or antibiotics. Along with this, they will also use sustainable processes. This will involve crop rotation, composting, and giving their livestock organic feed.

The US government also put its National Organic Program in place with set criteria. If the farm meets the 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 must adhere to include large-scale composting and not using treated seeds or synthetic substances. Along with this, they will only use pest controls that are plant-derived.

The Demeter Association or the Stellar Certification Services will offer biodynamic certification. The process of which is similar to that of receiving organic certification.

Why is Biodynamic Farming so important?

At a time when sustainability drives everything that we do, biodynamic farming could point the way to lesser polluting alternative agriculture that 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, farming and gardening can create a balanced ecosystem. This helps them create a diverse and sustainable farm 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.

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1Paull, 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.
2Bärbel 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
3Penfold 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
4L. 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
5P K, Sajeesh & Jagdish, Jaba. (2012). Biodynamic Farming: A Way to Sustainable Agriculture.
6Soil Fertility and Biodiversity in Organic Farming. BY PAUL MAEDER, ANDREAS FLIESSBACH, DAVID DUBOIS, LUCIE GUNST, PADRUOT FRIED, URS NIGGLI. SCIENCE31 MAY 2002 : 1694-1697
7Caldwell, 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.

Main Photo by Thomas Pierre on Unsplash
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