Farming Techniques: Bio-Dynamic Agriculture

According to the Biodynamic Association, Bio-Dynamic Agriculture is “a holistic, ecological, and ethical approach to farming, gardening, food, and nutrition.”[1] Biodynamic agriculture is similar to organic farming, which emphasizes crop rotation and fertilizers such as manure, bone meal, and other composts opposed to chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.[2] It is one of the most recent developments in agriculture, started in 1924 in response to many of the rapid changes in farming technology at the beginning of the 20th century.[3]

Some biodynamic methods include using astrological sowing and planting calendars and adding herbs and minerals in compost. Some practitioners use other unconventional methods such as magic, such as burying a cow horn stuffed with quartz in the ground in the hopes of reaping the “cosmic forces in the soil.”[4] While not every farmer who uses this method may attempt magic, biodynamic agriculture still turns away from many of the technological advancements that benefit farmers today.

One of the defining characteristics of biodynamic agriculture is the treatment of soil fertility, plant growth, and livestock as environmentally connected and emphasizes both spiritual and mystical concepts. The dependence on esoteric knowledge, along with its lack of scientific evidence proving its effectiveness, has led many outside the field of biodynamics to dub it as a pseudoscience.[5]

Despite concerns about the validity of biodynamics, in 2016, this technique was used on about 398,022 acres in 60 countries and continues to gain popularity in vineyards.[6] Wine enthusiasts claim that the grapes grown on biodynamic farms make the best wines. Currently, Italy, France, and the US lead the way biodynamic vineyards.[7]

As for non-vineyard farms, Germany leads the way in implementing biodynamic agriculture at 45% of the global total. The other 59 countries account for an estimated 4,324 acres per country.[8] As consumers seek out sustainable, environmentally-conscious, and ethical products, companies are listening, and the number of biodynamic farms continues to grow.

Biodynamic farms are sprouting up across India to combat crisis-struck farmer. Since 2001, nearly 9,884,215 acres of farmland have converted to biodynamic or organic land in the hopes of creating a sustainable system that can feed the communities around the country. Additionally, money that would typically be spent on synthetic fertilizers goes back to the communities thanks to the switch to natural fertilizers.[9]

The main benefit of biodynamic farming the lack of chemicals and growing crops without the use of artificial fertilizers, making it one of the most environmentally-conscious farming techniques. Without the use of chemicals, there is no worry about soil runoff that can pollute nearby rivers or seep into the soil and cause the ground to lose its natural fertility.

Crop rotation helps biodynamic farms reach higher levels of sustainability, and the land can produce high-quality food for an extended period of time. The soil is not stripped of the nutrients needed to grow crops and can maintain its fertility over several seasons. The small size of biodynamic farms also helps to ensure sustainability.

Because of the lack of chemicals, the food grown from these types of farms contains more vitamins and minerals than food produced elsewhere. Consumers of organically grown foods are exposed to fewer toxins. The food stays fresher longer and tastes better.[10]

However, one of the main characteristics of biodynamic farms–small, local farms–is also one of its most significant disadvantages. Because these types of farms are so little, they are limited in the amount that they can produce. It is not a method that can reliably feed large numbers of people in a community. Additionally, more workers are needed to work the farm, while less food is produced. The cost of labor is then passed on to the consumer.[11]

These factors, coupled with the high demand for organic products from consumers, drive up the prices, making it difficult for more impoverished communities to purchase. The products are grown and sold from biodynamic farms are usually sold to whole foods grocers or specialty stores, where not all classes of people can access it.

Biodynamic farming is very labor intensive and requires a higher degree of skills and knowledge about the plants and land than traditional, industrialized agriculture. Because farmers do not use fertilizer sprays to get rid of pests or stimulate crop growth, they must figure out other ways to solve common problems. Cutting out any industrial method of farming means the farmer spends more time in the fields, whether it is checking for weeds or monitoring plant growth.[12]

Biodynamic farms may include the use of other innovative farming methods such as greenhouses and vertical farms, but for the most part, it is very much about farmers returning to his or roots in nature. Perhaps as innovative farming gains ground, biodynamic agriculture will incorporate techniques that will offer larger yields, cut the cost of labor, and drop prices so organic food is more accessible for every socio-economic class.