I recently had the pleasure of coproducing a short film called "Biodynamic Agriculture: Farming in Service of Life," in partnership with 12 organizations practicing or supporting biodynamic agriculture. Beginning with the tenets of organic farming such as no use of toxic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and synthetic fertilizers, biodynamics takes farming one step further.1
As the title of the film portrays, biodynamic agriculture is farming in the service of life. It views the whole farm as an organism and leaves the land better than when biodynamic farming began, with lush land and animals big and small.
Biodynamic Agriculture Is Farming in the Service of Life
Biodynamic farming "is not easily understood and flies in the face of certainly the agriculture I had exposed to me as a young farmer," says Rudy Marchesi, a biodynamic farming expert who appears in the film. Marchesi has been termed "Oregon’s beloved biodynamic mentor" and serves as chairman of Demeter Association Inc., a not-for-profit dedicated to healing the planet through agriculture,2 and a film sponsor.3
Other film sponsors include Crofter’s Organic, White Leaf Provisions, Montinore Estate, Bonterra, Frey Vineyards, Truett Hurst Winery, Brooks Wine, Soter Vineyards, Biodynamic Association, Summerfield Waldorf School and Nekoosa Cranberry. Zepher Visuals is also a partner.4
"The moment a farm transitions into biodynamic agriculture, biodiversity improves, the quality of the food improves and also the quality of the life of the farmers," says Appachanda Thimmaiah, an expert on climate smart agriculture, food security, rural poverty reduction and sustainable development and agriculture who also appears in the film.
Thimmaiah, a board director of Demeter, has advised governments, international organizations and agribusiness corporations in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Italy, Holland, Costa Rica and Bhutan. He developed the National Organic Standards of Bhutan, which empower poor farmers and the nation as they move toward carbon neutrality and producing 100% organic food.5
The Need for Biodynamic Farming Grew Out of World War I
The philosophy of biodynamic farming is simple but radical. According to Rudolph Steiner, widely credited with first conceptualizing the farming philosophy in the 1920s, "You need to stop thinking of your farms as factories and envision them as living organisms — self-contained, self-sustaining, following the cycles of nature, and able to create their own health and vitality out of the living dynamics of the farm."
Many people think of nontoxic and organic farming as a relatively recent phenomenon, but it was first envisioned in the 1920s for a specific reason, says Elizabeth Candelario, former6 managing director for Demeter, which certifies biodynamic farming operations. She says:7
"After World War I, chemical companies got very crafty repurposing nitrogen that had been used to make bombs as fertilizer, and nerve gas as synthetic pesticides. They had stockpiles of these chemicals and realized they had application on farms …
We accept the notion of these synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and think, 'Huh. Synthetic fertilizer pesticides. It’s nerve gas. It was materials used to make bombs.'"
Industrial agriculture's love affair with nitrogen fertilizer is one of the most widespread and destructive aspects of "modern" farming. When nitrogen-based fertilizers are added to the soil, the amount of sequestered carbon is reduced and the soil microbiome is disrupted — reducing the soil's ability to support plant growth.
The soil's microbiome, like your own, teems with billions of important microbes that are essential to health. As a spokesperson in "Biodynamic Agriculture: Farming in Service of Life" says, if you have healthy soil you can grow anything well.
In addition to its degradation of soil, runoff of nitrogen-based fertilizers is one of the largest contributors to ocean pollution and dead zones where oxygen has been annihilated and marine life cannot live. When the fertilizers break down, ammonia is produced, which combines with fossil fuel combustion to create microparticles in the air.
Nitrogen-based fertilizers are not like the nitrogen naturally found in air, water and soil. They are "reactive," relying on fossil fuel-burning engines for production and contributing to industrial pollution.
Biodynamic Practices Produce Healthy Farms and Crops
For a farm to be certified as biodynamic, it cannot import outside, synthetic materials like industrial farms do, but must use what it already has. According to Candelario:
"If a farmer is having a fertility issue, in conventional farming, a conventional farmer might say, 'Let's just bring in those synthetic fertilizers.' An organic farmer might say, 'Let me look and see what organic fertilizers I can bring into the farm.' That's a step better, but you're still mining a natural resource and importing it to the farm.
A biodynamic farmer's going to say, 'What is it about my farm system that isn't capable of delivering the fertility that my crops need?'"
The answer, found within the biodynamic farm itself, may be the use of green manures, composting, adding crop coverage or adding livestock, says Candelario. The goal is to allow the agricultural ingredients that are already present on the farm to create the finished product so it ends up having minimal processing. It is assumed since the biodynamic farm is a living system, it has access to all it needs.
Biodynamic preparations might include burying cow manure in a cow horn over the winter, then vortexting it and spreading it in compost tea over the property. This practice, using what the farm already has, will produce increased microbial life in the soil, says Candelario. Other preparations used on a biodynamic farm might be a foliar spray made from silica and the use of the plants chamomile and valerian.
Biodynamic farming is really farming the soil, not the crops, according to "Biodynamic Agriculture: Farming in Service of Life," and healthy soil will lack the problems that are seen with conventional and industrial farms. According to the late Jerry Brunetti,8 whom I had the pleasure of interviewing in 2013, biodynamic agriculture represents:9
"… the marriage of biology, chemistry, geology, and the physical structure of those soils translated into not just quantity, but it also translated into what we call nutrient-dense foods these days, foods that are loaded with minerals, vitamins, all the plant secondary metabolites (… like lycopene, lutein, indole-3-carbinol), or whatever it might be that’s in a plant.
These plants, we’re finding out that when they’re nourished this way from the soil up, they have a tremendous resistance against fungal outbreaks and insect attack, and they’re just as productive if not more productive than the conventionally chemically-grown produce.
There’s a myth that you can’t grow the quantities of produce — forages, grains, fruits, and vegetables — that you can grow with conventional agriculture. That’s a myth, because we’ve seen it in the last 30 years with farmers who make these practices an actual ongoing, never-ending kind of process, where these particular outcomes are almost predictable."
Brunetti, an expert on soil fertility, animal nutrition and livestock health, was a passionate believer in the strong link between healthy soil and healthful food. He founded Agri-Dynamics, a company providing holistic animal remedies for farm, livestock and pets and was a cofounder of EarthWorks Natural Organic Products.
Not Conquering Life on Earth but Part of Life on Earth
According to a narrator in "Biodynamic Agriculture: Farming in Service of Life," biodynamic farmers want to be "part of life on Earth not conquer life on Earth." That means not waging chemical war on insects and weeds, which is the hallmark of industrial farming. Animals are also a big part of the biodiversity of biodynamic agriculture, said natural health expert Kristin Ohlson when I interviewed her in 2015.10
"[O]n a lot of these farms, they understand the importance of animal impact. Animals — cattle, sheep or goats — are going through and their hooves are breaking up the surface of the soil a little bit so that water and plant material get in contact with the soil microorganisms. The animals are leaving their dung, which is rich in microorganisms.
They’re chewing down the plant material and stomping it down. They have a beneficial impact there. All of those things are really helping the richness of the soil."
Brunetti praised the biodiversity of biodynamic agriculture and lamented the loss and even extinction of plant species as industrial monocropping becomes the rule in farming:11
"The prairies used to have 253,000 species of plants. We’ve plowed it all up when we have one species growing instead of those. How does that translate into ecosystem health? How does that translate into animal health? How does that translate into human health?
… how many varieties of fruits and vegetables did we eat in 1900 compared to today? It was many, many times more than what we’re consuming today. Most of what we eat today is like corn, soybeans or wheat in the Western side … that’s not a good idea …
We’re creating maybe one of the largest extinctions, a wholesale annihilation of species and ecosystems at large. We have an opportunity to either stop it and reverse it or pretend that it’s not happening and end up with the consequences."
The Importance of Carbon in the Soil
Environmentally, there is a lot of talk about carbon emissions from burning of fossil fuels. There is much less talk about a bigger issue, which is the need to sequester carbon into the soil. Photosynthesis itself accomplishes this important function by taking carbon out of the air and pushing it down into the soil. This carbon sequestering makes both the soil and the food it produces more healthful.
The more carbon that is put in the soil, the more a resilient and water-conservative soil is being built. As the film says, when it comes to putting carbon back into the soil, plants themselves are the "pump." However, industrial farming inhibits the vital action of carbon drawdown because synthetic fertilizers kill the microbiota in the soil. The interplay between soil and plants was described by Kristin Ohlson in our interview:12
"… science now tells us is that an amazing 40 percent, up to 40 percent of that carbon fuel, the plant doesn’t just use for its own growth. Up to 40 percent of that goes down to the roots, where it’s leaked out into the soil.
What’s happening when it’s leaked out into the soil is that the plants are feeding this very, very huge population of soil microorganisms … That’s the plants’ part of the partnership. The plant is providing food for these soil microorganisms.
What are the soil microorganisms doing with that carbon fuel? They’re using it to build their own growth, to support their own lifestyle … They are feeding themselves. They’re creating habitats. They’re [making] a carbon glue to make themselves a habitat, either to protect themselves against other microorganisms, to hold moisture, or to hold air in the soil."
Biodynamic farming forbids tilling the soil, a practice that also removes carbon from the soil and destroys its valuable microbial balance. Depending on the slope of the land and type of machinery used, tilling can also cause severe soil erosion. Exposing the soil also makes it much more susceptible to wind and water erosion.
Biodynamic farming includes other practices such as planting cover crops and plant rotation that protect the soil and reduce erosion. Farms that plant the same crop every year lose soil biodiversity and soil health.
Moreover, crop rotation between cash crop seasons, which is practiced on biodynamic farms, reduces the loss of specific nutrients in the soil that result from growing only one crop and improves organic material. Microbes are also insulated from the soil surface during weather extremes and can thrive longer.
Another Benefit to Biodynamic Agriculture
As expressed in "Biodynamic Agriculture: Farming in Service of Life," biodynamic agriculture improves biodiversity, and the quality of the food improves, as does the quality of the life of the farmers. It reduces air and water pollution and the loss of topsoil. There is another benefit to biodynamic agriculture, which is its effect on climate change. According to Candelario, agriculture specialists developing an initiative that began in France:13
"… did the math and they found that if we increased the carbon, in other words the organic matter in soil, in all the agricultural land around the world by just 0.4 percent, four-tenths percent, climate change or global warming would stop, because so much carbon would be drawn out."
Clearly the adoption of biodynamic agriculture could not come soon enough.
Source: mercola rss