Biodynamic agriculture

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Biodynamic agriculture is a form of alternative agriculture very similar to organic farming, but it includes various esoteric concepts drawn from the ideas of Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925). [1] [2] Initially developed in 1924, it was the first of the organic agriculture movements. [3] It treats soil fertility, plant growth, and livestock care as ecologically interrelated tasks, [4] [5] [6] emphasizing spiritual and mystical perspectives.

Organic farming Method of agriculture meant to be environmentally friendly

Organic farming is an alternative agricultural system which originated early in the 20th century in reaction to rapidly changing farming practices. Certified organic agriculture accounts for 70 million hectares globally, with over half of that total in Australia. Organic farming continues to be developed by various organizations today. It is defined by the use of fertilizers of organic origin such as compost manure, green manure, and bone meal and places emphasis on techniques such as crop rotation and companion planting. Biological pest control, mixed cropping and the fostering of insect predators are encouraged. Organic standards are designed to allow the use of naturally occurring substances while prohibiting or strictly limiting synthetic substances. For instance, naturally occurring pesticides such as pyrethrin and rotenone are permitted, while synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are generally prohibited. Synthetic substances that are allowed include, for example, copper sulfate, elemental sulfur and Ivermectin. Genetically modified organisms, nanomaterials, human sewage sludge, plant growth regulators, hormones, and antibiotic use in livestock husbandry are prohibited. Reasons for advocation of organic farming include advantages in sustainability, openness, self-sufficiency, autonomy/independence, health, food security, and food safety.

Rudolf Steiner Austrian philosopher, social reformer, architect, economist and esotericist

Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner was an Austrian clairvoyant, philosopher, social reformer, architect, economist and esotericist. Steiner gained initial recognition at the end of the nineteenth century as a literary critic and published philosophical works including The Philosophy of Freedom. At the beginning of the twentieth century he founded an esoteric spiritual movement, anthroposophy, with roots in German idealist philosophy and theosophy; other influences include Goethean science and Rosicrucianism.

Soil fertility Ability of a soil to sustain agricultural plant growth

Soil fertility refers to the ability of soil to sustain agricultural plant growth, i.e. to provide plant habitat and result in sustained and consistent yields of high quality. A fertile soil has the following properties:


Biodynamics has much in common with other organic approaches – it emphasizes the use of manures and composts and excludes the use of synthetic (artificial) fertilizers on soil and plants. Methods unique to the biodynamic approach include its treatment of animals, crops, and soil as a single system, an emphasis from its beginnings on local production and distribution systems, its use of traditional and development of new local breeds and varieties. Some methods use an astrological sowing and planting calendar. [7] Biodynamic agriculture uses various herbal and mineral additives for compost additives and field sprays; these are prepared using methods that are more akin to sympathetic magic than agronomy, such as burying ground quartz stuffed into the horn of a cow, which are said to harvest "cosmic forces in the soil." [8]

Manure Organic matter, mostly derived from animal feces, which can be used as fertilizer

Manure is organic matter, mostly derived from animal feces except in the case of green manure, which can be used as organic fertilizer in agriculture. Manures contribute to the fertility of the soil by adding organic matter and nutrients, such as nitrogen, that are utilised by bacteria, fungi and other organisms in the soil. Higher organisms then feed on the fungi and bacteria in a chain of life that comprises the soil food web.

Compost organic matter that has been decomposed

Compost is organic matter that has been decomposed in a process called composting. This process recycles various organic materials otherwise regarded as waste products and produces a soil conditioner.

Astrology Pseudoscience claiming celestial objects influence human affairs

Astrology is a pseudoscience that claims to divine information about human affairs and terrestrial events by studying the movements and relative positions of celestial objects. Astrology has been dated to at least the 2nd millennium BCE, and has its roots in calendrical systems used to predict seasonal shifts and to interpret celestial cycles as signs of divine communications. Many cultures have attached importance to astronomical events, and some—such as the Hindus, Chinese, and the Maya—developed elaborate systems for predicting terrestrial events from celestial observations. Western astrology, one of the oldest astrological systems still in use, can trace its roots to 19th–17th century BCE Mesopotamia, from which it spread to Ancient Greece, Rome, the Arab world and eventually Central and Western Europe. Contemporary Western astrology is often associated with systems of horoscopes that purport to explain aspects of a person's personality and predict significant events in their lives based on the positions of celestial objects; the majority of professional astrologers rely on such systems.

No difference in beneficial outcomes has been scientifically established between certified biodynamic agricultural techniques and similar organic and integrated farming practices. Biodynamic agriculture lacks strong scientific evidence for its efficacy and has been labeled a pseudoscience because of its overreliance upon esoteric knowledge and mystical beliefs. [9]

Integrated Farming - UNI 11233-2009 new European agriculture organic standard (IF), integrated production or Integrated Farm Management is a whole farm management system which aims to deliver more sustainable agriculture. It is a dynamic approach which can be applied to any farming system around the world. It involves attention to detail and continuous improvement in all areas of a farming business through informed management processes. Integrated Farming combines the best of modern tools and technologies with traditional practices according to a given site and situation. In simple words, it means using many ways of cultivation in a small space or land.

Pseudoscience consists of statements, beliefs, or practices that are claimed to be both scientific and factual but are incompatible with the scientific method. Pseudoscience is often characterized by contradictory, exaggerated or unfalsifiable claims; reliance on confirmation bias rather than rigorous attempts at refutation; lack of openness to evaluation by other experts; absence of systematic practices when developing hypotheses; and continued adherence long after the pseudoscientific hypotheses have been experimentally discredited. The term pseudoscience is considered pejorative, because it suggests something is being presented as science inaccurately or even deceptively. Those described as practicing or advocating pseudoscience often dispute the characterization.

As of 2019, biodynamic techniques were used on 202.045 hectares in 55 countries. Germany accounts for 41,8% of the global total; [10] the remainder average 1750 ha per country. Biodynamic methods of cultivating grapevines have been taken up by several notable vineyards. [11] There are certification agencies for biodynamic products, most of which are members of the international biodynamics standards group Demeter International.

Biodynamic wines are wines made employing biodynamic methods both to grow the fruit and during the post-harvest processing. Biodynamic wine production uses organic farming methods while also employing soil supplements prepared according to Rudolf Steiner's formulas, following a planting calendar that depends upon astronomical configurations, and treating the earth as "a living and receptive organism.

Demeter International trademark

Demeter International is the largest certification organization for biodynamic agriculture, and is one of three predominant organic certifiers. Its name is a reference to Demeter, the Greek goddess of grain and fertility. Demeter Biodynamic Certification is used in over 50 countries to verify that biodynamic products meet international standards in production and processing. The Demeter certification program was established in 1928, and as such was the first ecological label for organically produced foods.


Origin of a theory

Rudolf Steiner, occultist philosopher and founder of "anthroposophic agriculture", later known as "biodynamic". Steiner um 1905.jpg
Rudolf Steiner, occultist philosopher and founder of "anthroposophic agriculture", later known as "biodynamic".

Biodynamics was the first modern organic agriculture. [2] [3] [12] Its development began in 1924 with a series of eight lectures on agriculture given by philosopher Rudolf Steiner at Schloss Koberwitz in Silesia, Germany (now Kobierzyce in Poland). [13] [14] These lectures, the first known presentation of organic agriculture, [2] were 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. [15] The 111 attendees, less than half of whom were farmers, came from six countries, primarily Germany and Poland. [2] The lectures were published in November 1924; the first English translation appeared in 1928 as The Agriculture Course. [16]

Kobierzyce Village in Lower Silesian Voivodeship, Poland

Kobierzyce is a village in Wrocław County, Lower Silesian Voivodeship, in south-western Poland. It is the seat of the administrative district (gmina) called Gmina Kobierzyce. Prior to 1945 it belonged to Germany. It lies approximately 20 kilometres (12 mi) south-west of the capital of Lower Silesian Voivodeship Wrocław.

Lower Silesia historical region of Germany and Poland

Lower Silesia is the northwestern part of the historical and geographical region of Silesia; Upper Silesia is to the southeast.

Steiner emphasized that the methods he proposed should be tested experimentally. For this purpose, Steiner established a research group, the "Agricultural Experimental Circle of Anthroposophical Farmers and Gardeners of the General Anthroposophical Society". [17] Between 1924 and 1939, this research group attracted about 800 members from around the world, including Europe, the Americas and Australasia. [17] Another group, the "Association for Research in Anthroposophical Agriculture" (Versuchsring anthroposophischer Landwirte), directed by the German agronomist Erhard Bartsch, was formed to test the effects of biodynamic methods on the life and health of soil, plants and animals; the group published a monthly journal, Demeter. [18] Bartsch was also instrumental in developing a sales organisation for biodynamic products, Demeter, which still exists today. The Research Association was renamed the Imperial Association for Biodynamic Agriculture (Reichsverband für biologisch-dynamische Wirtschaftsweise) in 1933. It was dissolved by the National Socialist regime in 1941. In 1931 the association had 250 members in Germany, 109 in Switzerland, 104 in other European countries and 24 outside Europe. The oldest biodynamic farms are the Wurzerhof in Austria and Marienhöhe in Germany. [19]

Nazi Party a far-right political party in Germany that was active between 1920 and 1945

The National Socialist German Workers' Party, commonly referred to in English as the Nazi Party, was a far-right political party in Germany that was active between 1920 and 1945, that created and supported the ideology of National Socialism. Its precursor, the German Workers' Party, existed from 1919 to 1920.

In 1938, Ehrenfried Pfeiffer's text, Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening, was published in five languages – English, Dutch, Italian, French, and German; this became the standard work in the field for several decades. [18] In July 1939, at the invitation of Walter James, 4th Baron Northbourne, Pfeiffer travelled to the UK and presented the Betteshanger Summer School and Conference on Biodynamic Farming at Northbourne's farm in Kent. [20] The conference has been described as the 'missing link' between biodynamic agriculture and organic farming because, in the year after Betteshanger, Northbourne published his manifesto of organic farming, Look to the Land, in which he coined the term 'organic farming' and praised the methods of Rudolf Steiner. [20] In the 1950s, Hans Mueller was encouraged by Steiner's work to create the organic-biological farming method in Switzerland; this later developed to become the largest certifier of organic products in Europe, Bioland. [4] :5

Geographic developments

Today biodynamics is practiced in more than 50 countries worldwide and in a variety of circumstances, ranging from temperate arable farming, viticulture in France, cotton production in Egypt, to silkworm breeding in China. [21] :141 Demeter International is the primary certification agency for farms and gardens using the methods.

Biodynamic method of farming

In common with other forms of organic agriculture, biodynamic agriculture uses management practices that are intended to "restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony." [32] Central features include crop diversification, the avoidance of chemical soil treatments and off-farm inputs generally, decentralized production and distribution, and the consideration of celestial and terrestrial influences on biological organisms. [32] [33] The Demeter Association recommends that "(a) minimum of ten percent of the total farm acreage be set aside as a biodiversity preserve. That may include but is not limited to forests, wetlands, riparian corridors, and intentionally planted insectaries. Diversity in crop rotation and perennial planting is required: no annual crop can be planted in the same field for more than two years in succession. Bare tillage year round is prohibited so land needs to maintain adequate green cover." [34]

The Demeter Association also recommends that the individual design of the land "by the farmer, as determined by site conditions, is one of the basic tenets of biodynamic agriculture. This principle emphasizes that humans have a responsibility for the development of their ecological and social environment which goes beyond economic aims and the principles of descriptive ecology." [21] :141–142 Crops, livestock, and farmer, and "the entire socioeconomic environment" form a unique interaction, which biodynamic farming tries to "actively shape ...through a variety of management practices. The prime objective is always to encourage healthy conditions for life": soil fertility, plant and animal health, and product quality. [21] :141–142 "The farmer seeks to enhance and support the forces of nature that lead to healthy crops, and rejects farm management practices that damage the environment, soil plant, animal or human health....the farm is conceived of as an organism, a self-contained entity with its own individuality," [35] :148 holistically conceived and self-sustaining. [32] "Disease and insect control are addressed through botanical species diversity, predator habitat, balanced crop nutrition, and attention to light penetration and airflow. Weed control emphasizes prevention, including timing of planting, mulching, and identifying and avoiding the spread of invasive weed species." [34]

Biodynamic agriculture differs from many forms of organic agriculture in its spiritual, mystical, and astrological orientation. It shares a spiritual focus, as well as its view toward improving humanity, with the "nature farming" movement in Japan. [4] :5 Important features include the use of livestock manures to sustain plant growth (recycling of nutrients), maintenance and improvement of soil quality, and the health and well being of crops and animals. [15] Cover crops, green manures and crop rotations are used extensively and the farms to foster the diversity of plant and animal life, and to enhance the biological cycles and the biological activity of the soil. [32]

Biodynamic farms often have a cultural component and encourage local community, both through developing local sales and through on-farm community building activities. Some biodynamic farms use the Community Supported Agriculture model, which has connections with social threefolding.

Compared to non-organic agriculture, BD farming practices have been found to be more resilient to environmental challenges, to foster a diverse biosphere, and to be more energy efficient, factors Eric Lichtfouse describes being of increasing importance in the face of climate change, energy scarcity and population growth. [36]

Biodynamic preparations

In his "agricultural course" Steiner prescribed nine different preparations to aid fertilization, and described how these were to be prepared. Steiner believed that these preparations mediated terrestrial and cosmic forces into the soil. [37] The prepared substances are numbered 500 through 508, where the first two are used for preparing fields, and the other 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 both organic farming and biodynamic farming resulted in enhanced soil properties, but had lower yields than conventional farming.[ citation needed ] Regarding compost development beyond accelerating the initial phase of composting, some positive effects have been noted: [11]

Although the preparations have direct nutrient values, modern biodynamic practitioners believe their benefit is to support the self-regulating capacities of the biota already present in the soil and compost. [39] Critics of the practice have pointed out that no evidence or logic underlies the practices themselves, which instead are dependent on magical thinking and debunked theories of Steiner himself. There is no evidence that biodynamic practices have any benefit beyond the direct nutrients they add as fertilizer, [38] which may itself be of smaller benefit than other traditionally organic or commercial fertilizers. [40]

Field preparations

Field preparations, for stimulating humus formation:

  • 500: A humus mixture prepared by filling a cow's horn 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 as fertilizer the following spring. [41]
  • 501: Crushed powdered quartz stuffed into a cow's horn and buried in the ground in springtime and taken out in autumn. It can be mixed with 500 but is usually prepared on its own. The mixture is sprayed under very low pressure over the crop during the wet season, as a supposed antifungal. [42]

Compost preparations

The compost preparations Steiner recommended employ herbs which are frequently used in alternative medical remedies. Many of the same herbs Steiner referenced are used in organic practices to make foliar fertilizers, green manure, or in composting. The preparations Steiner discussed were:

  • 502: Yarrow blossoms (Achillea millefolium) stuffed into the urinary bladders from red deer (Cervus elaphus), placed in the sun during summer, buried in the ground during winter, and retrieved in the spring. [43]
  • 503: Chamomile blossoms (Matricaria recutita) stuffed into the small intestines of cattle, buried in humus-rich earth in the autumn, and retrieved in the spring. [44]
  • 504: Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) plants in full bloom stuffed together underground surrounded on all sides by peat for a year. [45]
  • 505: Oak bark (Quercus robur) chopped in small pieces, placed inside the skull of a domesticated animal, surrounded by peat, and buried in the ground in a place near rain runoff. [46]
  • 506: Dandelion flowers (Taraxacum officinale) stuffed into the mesentery of a cow, buried in the ground during winter, and retrieved in the spring. [47]
  • 507: Valerian flowers (Valeriana officinalis) extracted into water. [48]
  • 508: Horsetail (Equisetum). [49]

Planting calendar

The approach considers that there are lunar and astrological influences on soil and plant development—for example, choosing to plant, cultivate or harvest various crops based on both the phase of the moon and the zodiacal constellation the moon is passing through, and also depending on whether the crop is the root, leaf, flower, or fruit of the plant. [50] [51] This aspect of biodynamics has been termed "astrological" and "pseudoscientific" in nature. [52] [53] [54]

Seed production

Biodynamic agriculture has focused on the open pollination of seeds (with farmers thereby generally growing their own seed) and the development of locally adapted varieties. [55]

Biodynamic certification

The Demeter biodynamic certification system established in 1924 was the first certification and labelling system for organic production. [4] :5 As of 2018, to receive certification as biodynamic, the farm must meet the following standards: agronomic guidelines, greenhouse management, structural components, livestock guidelines, and post-harvest handling and processing procedures. [56]

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. The trademark is intended to protect both the consumer and the producers of biodynamic produce. Demeter International 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. [57] In Egypt, SEKEM has created the Egyptian Biodynamic Association (EBDA), an association that provides training for farmers to become certified. [58] As of 2006, more than 200 wineries worldwide were certified as biodynamic; numerous other wineries employ biodynamic methods to a greater or lesser extent. [59]


Research into biodynamic farming has been complicated by the difficulty of isolating the distinctively biodynamic aspects when conducting comparative trials. [3] Consequently, there is no strong body of material that provides evidence of any specific effect. [3]

Since biodynamic farming is a form of organic farming, it can be generally assumed to share its characteristics, including "less stressed soils and thus diverse and highly interrelated soil communities". [60]

A 2009/2011 review found that biodynamically cultivated fields: [60]

Both factors were similar to the result in organically cultivated fields.


In a 2002 newspaper editorial, Peter Treue, agricultural researcher at the University of Kiel, characterized biodynamics as pseudoscience and argued that similar or equal results can be obtained using standard organic farming principles. He wrote that some biodynamic preparations more resemble alchemy or magic akin to geomancy. [8]

In a 1994 analysis, Holger Kirchmann, a soil researcher with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, concluded that Steiner's instructions were occult and dogmatic, and cannot contribute to the development of alternative or sustainable agriculture. According to Kirchmann, many of Steiner's statements are not provable because scientifically clear hypotheses cannot be made from his descriptions. Kirchmann asserted that when methods of biodynamic agriculture were tested scientifically, the results were unconvincing. [61] Further, in a 2004 overview of biodynamic agriculture, Linda Chalker-Scott, a researcher at Washington State University, characterized biodynamics as pseudoscience, writing that Steiner did not use scientific methods to formulate his theory of biodynamics, and that the later addition of valid organic farming techniques has "muddled the discussion" of Steiner's original idea. Based on the scant scientific testing of biodynamics, Chalker-Scott concluded "no evidence exists" that homeopathic preparations improve the soil. [62]

In Michael Shermer's The Skeptic Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience , Dan Dugan says that the way biodynamic preparations are supposed to be implemented are formulated solely on the basis of Steiner's "own insight". [63] Skeptic Brian Dunning writes "the best way to think of 'biodynamic agriculture' would be as a magic spell cast over an entire farm. Biodynamics sees an entire farm as a single organism, with something that they call a life force." [64]

Florian Leiber, Nikolai Fuchs and Hartmut Spieß, researchers at the Goetheanum, have defended the principles of biodynamics and suggested that critiques of biodynamic agriculture which deny it scientific credibility are "not in keeping with the they take no notice of large areas of biodynamic management and research." Biodynamic farmers are "charged with developing a continuous dialogue between biodynamic science and the natural sciences sensu stricto," despite important differences in paradigms, world views, and value systems. [21] :147

Philosopher of science Michael Ruse has written that followers of biodynamic agriculture rather enjoy the scientific marginalisation that comes from its pseudoscientific basis, revelling both in its esoteric aspects and the impression that they were in the vanguard of the wider anti-science sentiment that has grown in opposition to modern methods such as genetic modification. [9]

Steiners theory was similar to those of the agricultural scientist Richard Krzymowski, who was teaching in Breslau since 1922. [65] The environmental scientist Frank M. Rauch mentioned in 1995, concerning the reprint of a book from Raoul Heinrich Francé, another source probably used by Steiner. [66]

See also

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Further reading

Biodynamic Agricultural Association (n.d.). "How does the Calendar work?". Biodynamic Frequently Asked Questions. The Biodynamic Agricultural Association (UK). Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-10-05.
Burkitt, L.L.; D R. Small; J.W. McDonald; W.J. Wales; M.L. Jenkin (2007a). "Comparing irrigated biodynamic and conventionally managed dairy farms. 1. Soil and pasture properties". Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture. 47 (5): 479–88. doi:10.1071/EA05196. OCLC   12490171.
Burkitt, L.L.; W.J. Wales; J.W. McDonald; D R. Small; M.L. Jenkin (2007b). "Comparing irrigated biodynamic and conventionally managed dairy farms. 2. Milk production and composition and animal health". Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture. 47 (5): 489–94. doi:10.1071/EA06085. OCLC   12490171.
Diver, Steve (1999). "Biodynamic Farming & Compost Preparation (ATTRA Publication #IP137)". ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. Archived from the original on 2011-05-26. Retrieved 2007-10-05.
Harwood, Richard R. (1990). "A History of Sustainable Agriculture". In Clive A. Edwards; Rattan Lal; Patrick Madden; Robert H. Miller; Gar House (eds.). Sustainable Agricultural Systems. Ankeny, IA: Soil and Water Conservation Society. pp. 3–19. ISBN   978-0-935734-21-8. OCLC   20933949.
Koepf, Herbert (2009). Research in Biodynamic Agriculture: Methods and Results. Biodynamic Farm and Gardening Association. ISBN   978-0-938250-34-0.
Kristiansen, Paul (2006). "Overview of organic agriculture" (PDF). In Paul Kristiansen; Acram Taji; John Reganold (eds.). Organic Agriculture: A Global Perspective (online sample reprint ed.). Collingwood, VIC: CSIRO Publishing. pp. 1–23. ISBN   978-0-643-09090-3. OCLC   71801183.
Mäder, Paul; Andreas Fließbach; David Dubois; Lucie Gunst; Padruot Fried; Urs Niggli (2002). "Soil fertility and biodiversity in organic farming". Science . 296 (5573): 1694–97. doi:10.1126/science.1071148. OCLC   1644869. PMID   12040197. Archived from the original (Summary) on October 25, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-11.
Martinez, A.W. (1952-05-31). "The City With Golden Garbage" (Reprint). Collier's Weekly. Springfield, OH: Crowell-Collier. OCLC   8755061 . Retrieved 2007-10-05.
McKanan, Dan (2017). "Anthroposophy and the History and Future of Environmentalism". Eco-Alchemy: Anthroposophy and the History and Future of Environmentalism. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN   978-0520290051. JSTOR   10.1525/j.ctt1vjqqzd. Introduction
Nastati, Enzo (2010). "Commentary on Dr Rudolf Steiner's Agriculture Course". MM Publications.
Eskenazi, Joe (2010). "Voodoo on the Vine". SF Weekly.
Pfeiffer, Ehrenfried (2006) [1938]. Soil Fertility, Renewal and Preservation: Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening. Delhi, India: Asiatic Publishing House. ISBN   978-81-87067-73-3.
Schilthuis, Willy (2003). Biodynamic Agriculture. Floris Books. ISBN   978-0-86315-397-6.


  • Proctor, Peter (1997). Grasp the Nettle: Making Biodynamic Farming & Gardening Work. With Gillian Cole. Random House.