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Biodynamic agriculture is a method of organic farming with homeopathic composts that treats farms as unified and individual organisms,[1] emphasizing balancing the holistic development and interrelationship of the soil, plants, animals as a self-nourishing system without external inputs[2] insofar as this is possible given the loss of nutrients due to the export of food.[3]

Regarded by some as the first modern ecological farming system[4] and one of the most sustainable,[5] biodynamic farming has much in common with other organic approaches, such as emphasizing the use of manures and composts and excluding 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.[6] Biodynamics originated out of the work of Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the spiritual philosophy anthroposophy.



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, Germany, (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.[7] 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 state corporation.

In Australia the first biodynamic preparations were made by Ernesto Genoni in Melbourne in 1927[8] and by Bob Williams in Sydney in 1939. Since the 1950s research work has continued at the Biodynamic Research Institute (BDRI)[9] in Powelltown, near Melbourne Australia under the direction of Alexei Podolinsky. In 1989 Biodynamic Agriculture Australia was established, as a not for profit association. 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.[10]

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."[11] Cover crops, green manures and crop rotations are used extensively.


Biodynamic preparations

Steiner prescribed nine different preparations to aid fertilization which are the cornerstone of biodynamic agriculture, and described how these were to be prepared. Steiner believed that these preparations transferred supernatural terrestrial and cosmic "forces" into the soil.[3] 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. A long term trial (DOK experiment) evaluating the biodynamic farming system in comparison with organic and conventional farming systems, found that preparations have influence on soil structure and micro-organisms enhancing soil fertility and increasing biodiversity.[12]. Regarding compost development beyond accelerating the initial phase of composting, some positive effects have been noted:[13]

  • The field sprays contain substances that stimulate plant growth include cytokinins.
  • Some improvement in nutrient content of compost.

Field preparations

Field preparations, for stimulating humus formation:

  • 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, in an attempt 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. Although some biodynamic beliefs refer to buried quartz "fermenting", a 2004 review commented that it is unclear what this actually means, as rock does not ferment.[14]

Compost preparations

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 composting mass.

One study found that the oak bark preparation improved disease resistance in zucchini.[13]

Astronomical planting calendar

The approach considers that there are astronomical influences on soil and plant development, specifying, for example, what phase of the moon is most appropriate for planting, cultivating or harvesting various kinds of crops.[15] This aspect of biodynamics has been termed "astrological" in nature.[16]

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 sprayed 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.

Seed production

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.[17]

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, Biodivin certifies biodynamic wine.[18] In Egypt, SEKEM has created the Egyptian Biodynamic Association (EBDA), an association that provides training for farmers to become certified.[19]

Studies of efficacy

Studies have compared biodynamic farming methods to both other organic methods and to conventional methods. Most studies have found that biodynamic farms have soil quality significantly better than conventionally farmed soils but comparable to the soil quality achieved by other organic methods; the decisive factor is likely to be the use of compost.[20] Studies of yields differ in their conclusions.

  • 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."[21] The biodynamic farms were just as financially viable on a per hectare basis.[21] 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 "[i]n 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."[22]
  • 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 wine grapes" for the biodynamically treated crop, but noted the control vines had been "slightly overcropped". In one particular year of the study the biodynamically treated wine grapes 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.[23]
  • 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 regard 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.[24][25]


Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, 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.[26] The process was first used on a commercial scale in Oakland, California in the early 1950s.[27]


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.[28]

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.[29] 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."[30]

See also


  1. ^ Diver (1999), "Community Supported Agriculture"
  2. ^ Andrew Christopher Lorand. Biodynamic Agriculture—A Paradigmatic Analysis. Pennsylvania State University, Department of Agricultural and Extension Education. 1996 PhD Dissertation.
  3. ^ a b Kirchmann, H.; Thorvaldsson, G.; Bergstrom, L.; Gerzabek, M.; Andren, O.; Eriksson, L.O.; Winninge, M. (2008). "Fundamentals of organic agriculture" (PDF). Organic Crop Production--Ambitions and Limitations. Retrieved 2009-07-01.  
  4. ^ See for example Diver (1999, Abstract). Richard Harwood, former C.S. Mott Chair for Sustainable Agriculture at Michigan State University, calls the biodynamic movement the "first organized and well-defined movement of growers and philosophies [in sustainable agriculture] (Harwood 1990; p.6).
  5. ^ Saving the World with Biodynamic Farming, ISIS report 16/01/08. Accessed December 18, 2009.
  6. ^ The Biodynamic Agricultural Association (n.d.)"An astronomical calendar is used to determine auspicious, planting, cultivating and harvesting times" (as opposed to an astrological calendar).
  7. ^ According to account given in Diver (1999), "Introduction".
  8. ^ Timeline of environmental movement in Australia "1927 Ernesto Genoni introduces biodynamic farming methods to Australia." - History - The Australian Greens
  9. ^ Biodynamic Research Institute (BDRI)
  10. ^ Biodynamic Agriculture Dept. of the University of Kassel
  11. ^ Quotation from Diver (1999), "Introduction".
  12. ^ Mäder, Paul; Fliessbach, Andreas; Dubois, David; Gunst, Lucie; Fried, Padruot and Niggli, Urs "Soil Fertility and Biodiversity in Organic Farming". Science, 296, pp. 1694-1697
  13. ^ a b J. Reeve, Effects of Biodynamic Preparations on Soil, Winegrape and Compost Quality on a California Vineyard, M.S. thesis, Washington State University Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Dec. 2003
  14. ^ Trewavas, A. (2004). "A critical assessment of organic farming-and-food assertions with particular respect to the UK and" (PDF). Crop protection 23 (9): 757–781. doi:10.1016/j.cropro.2004.01.009. Retrieved 2009-07-01.  
  15. ^ Biodynamic Tea (2007), "Beyond Organic Biodynamic Tea".
  16. ^ Diver (1999), "Planetary Influences".
  17. ^ Nemoto, K. and Nishikawa, Y., "Seed supply system for alternative agriculture: Case study of biodynamic agriculture in Germany", Journal of the Faculty of Agriculture, Shinshu University, Japan, Mar. 2007, pp. 73-81
  18. ^ Paul Gregutt, "Not Woo-Woo Anymore: More and more wineries are tasting the benefits of saving the soil", The Seattle Times, November 20, 2005. Reprint copy. Accessed 2008-01-26.
  19. ^ Egyptian Biodynamic Association (EBDA). Accessed 2008-01-26.
  20. ^ Carpenter-Boggs et al. "Organic and Biodynamic Management: Effects on Soil Biology". Soil Science Society of America Journal 64(5):1651-1659 (2000)
  21. ^ a b Reganold, et al. (1993).
  22. ^ Carpenter-Boggs, et al. (2000b).
  23. ^ Reeve, et al. (2005).
  24. ^ Mäder, et al. (2002).
  25. ^ FiBL trial in Switzerland. Accessed 2008-01-26.
  26. ^ Pfeiffer (2006, p.150).
  27. ^ Martinez (1952).
  28. ^ "Treue" (2002).
  29. ^ Holger Kirchmann, "Biological dynamic farming--an occult form of alternative agriculture?" J. Agric. Environ. Ethics. 7(2):173-187
  30. ^ Linda Chalker-Scott, "The Myth of Biodynamic Agriculture", Master Gardener Magazine (2004).


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Chalker-Scott, Linda (2004). "The Myth of Biodynamic Agriculture" (PDF). Horticultural Myths. Washington State University Puyallup Research & Extension Center. Retrieved 2007-10-05.  
Diver, Steve (1999). "Biodynamic Farming & Compost Preparation (ATTRA Publication #IP137)". ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. Retrieved 2007-10-05.  
Harwood, Richard R. (1990). "A History of Sustainable Agriculture". in Clive A. Edwards, Rattan Lal, Patrick Madden, Robert H. Miller and Gar House (Eds.). Sustainable Agricultural Systems. Ankeny, IA: Soil and Water Conservation Society. pp. 3–19. ISBN 0-935734-21-X. OCLC 20933949.  
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Koepf, Herbert (2009). Research in Biodynamic Agriculture: Methods and Results. Biodynamic Farm and Gardening Association. ISBN 0-938250-34-5.  
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Lorand, Andrew (1996). Biodynamic Agriculture — A paradigmatic analysis. Ph.D. thesis. Pennsylvania State University.  
Mäder, Paul; Andreas Fließbach, David Dubois, Lucie Gunst, Padruot Fried and Urs Niggli (2002). "Soil fertility and biodiversity in organic farming" (Summary). Science (New York, NY: American Association for the Advancement of Science) 296 (5573): 1694–1697. doi:10.1126/science.1071148. OCLC 1644869. PMID 12040197. Retrieved 2007-10-11.  
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Pfeiffer, Ehrenfried (2006) [1938]. Soil Fertility, Renewal and Preservation: Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening. Delhi, India: Asiatic Publishing House. ISBN 8-18706-773-X.  
Raupp, J. (1998). "Biodynamic Approaches in Research and Development". Research Methodologies in Organic Farming. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.  
Reeve, Jennifer R.; Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, John P. Reganold, Alan L. York, Glenn McGourty and Leo P. McCloskey (December 1, 2005). "Soil and Winegrape Quality in Biodynamically and Organically Managed Vineyards". American Journal of Enology and Viticulture (Davis, CA: American Society for Enology and Viticulture) 56 (4): 367–376. ISSN 0002-9254. OCLC 60652537.  
Reganold, John P.; Alan S. Palmer, James C. Lockhart, and A. Neil Macgregor (1993). "Soil quality and financial performance of biodynamic and conventional farms in New Zealand". Science 260 (5106): 344–349. doi:10.1126/science.260.5106.344. PMID 17838252.  
Schilthuis, Willy (2003). Biodynamic Agriculture. Floris Books. ISBN 0863153976.  
Treue, Peter (2002-03-13). "Blut und Bohnen: Der Paradigmenwechsel im Künast-Ministerium ersetzt Wissenschaft durch Okkultismus" (Reprint. Translated title: "Blood and Beans: The paradigm-shift in the [Renate] Künast [Consumer] Ministry [Green party] replaces science with occultism"). Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - Die Gegenwart (Frankfurt-am-Main: FAZ) 62 (12). Retrieved 2007-10-05.   (German)

External links

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News articles

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