BIODYNAMIC AGRICULTURE: DOUBTS AND QUESTIONS

Are we sure we know what biodynamic agriculture is? Why do people tend to get heated by this topic? Let’s try and understand what this practice consists of.

I first heard about biodynamic agriculture several years ago and I must admit that I did not immediately delve into the subject. The name sounded similar to organic farming, so I stuck with my first idea. After some time I became interested in the “bio” field and I discovered that I was wrong, at least in part. Biodynamic agriculture includes special (and compulsory) practices that clearly distinguish it from simple organic farming.

Who theorised it?

The father of biodynamic agriculture is Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher born in 1861. He was not a farmer and he had never studied the subject; however, he delivered eight lectures on agriculture, laying the foundation for current biodynamic agriculture. This also provided the trigger for the future development of organic farming.
Steiner was a philosopher, his theory was based on a holistic view on world and life. He believed that the use of synthetic products could compromise fertility and biological balance of soil, but not only. He claimed that plants and animals could be influenced by unspecified “cosmic energies” that should affect their “life force”.

What is Biodynamic agriculture?

Biodynamic agriculture resembles organic agriculture to some extent, for example in applying crop rotation and green manure. There is nothing wrong with that, but some practices are a little puzzling; for example, major importance is attached to the horoscope, which determines the period to apply a certain preparation. This agriculture implements the manure fermentation (a well-known practice also used in traditional agriculture) inside buried cow horns. The reason could be an alleged ability of the animal’s horns to convey cosmic energy. Another typical practice of biodynamic agriculture is the application of special preparations using deer bladder, cow intestine, ox skull, together with herbs such as chamomile or yarrow. These preparations can be applied through a homeopathic dilution, e.g. a mixture to keep mice away can be applied at a dose of 80 g per hectare (one hectare equals 10,000 square metres).

In order to be certified as a biodynamic farmer, the application of mixtures is mandatory, but technological innovations are not allowed.

Controversies

At this point, it should be clear that the main reason for the controversies regarding biodynamic agriculture is the claim of its scientific reliability. Some aspects of biodynamic agriculture are, without doubt, interesting: it has been shown that organic agriculture tends to preserve soil fertility and biodiversity: it is the same for biodynamic agriculture that shares the practices. The real problems are the most unusual practices and preparations, based on little-scientific methods. Why should a product be more effective when the Moon enters Saturn? What does the horoscope have to do with science?

Above all, are there scientific studies showing the effectiveness of these practices? A few studies have been published on this subject. One of the most referenced study compared three fields: the first one traditionally farmed, the second one organically farmed and the last one biodynamically farmed. The results of the study clarifies that the biodynamically farmed field has major soil fertility and wider biodiversity… just like the organic field.
Other studies show no difference between compost treated with biodynamic preparations and normal organic compost. Finally, the scientific community does not take into account studies that do not ensure the required accuracy.

It is right to try and preserve biodiversity or soil fertility, and it is true that traditional intensive agriculture tends to overexploit resources, causing pollution and threatening biodiversity. The aim is not to put a more respectful attitude towards life on trial, but to make people think about practices of dubious value.

I would like to add a small personal note. I have heard religious/spiritual/holistic/etc. ideas opposed to science. The latter is said to be arid and eager to tear mystery from life. I would like to reply that science feeds on mystery, draws inspiration from it, investigates it, but never stops being amazed by it.

Read more:

https://s3.wp.wsu.edu/uploads/sites/403/2015/03/biodynamic-agriculture.pdf

https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.1071148#:~:text=We%20found%20crop%20yields%20to,less%20dependent%20on%20external%20inputs.

Source text: Agricoltura biodinamica: dubbi e domande by Katia Berlingeri

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