Biodynamics stems from Rudolf Steiner’s system of anthroposophy. It takes a holistic approach to the farm as it seeks to regenerate and invigorate the soil and plants. It includes organic farming practices as well as the use of specific preparations such as manure matured in cow horns. Biodynamics is said to integrate the influence of cosmic rhythms on the earth and favour symbioses between plants, animals, humans and the soil.
Healthy soil for high-quality food
Biodynamics was a precursor to today’s organic farming. In 1924, German farmers and agronomists were concerned by the decline in their crops and in the fertility of their livestock, and thus in the quality of food products. In response, they started looking into anthroposophy, an esoteric school of thought presented as “a path of knowledge, to guide the Spiritual in the human being to the Spiritual in the universe” and turned to its founder Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) for help. This Austrian philosopher proceeded to give a series of eight lectures, in which he set out the theoretical and practical foundations of a farming practice that later became known as “biodynamics”. Contemplating the idea of the soil and various organisms degenerating, he developed methods aimed at invigorating and healing the soil and plants, and favouring the links between different levels of life.
Biodynamics comprises specific practices revolving around three fundamental principles: designing the farm or the garden as a diversified and autonomous entity, using homeopathic doses of specific preparations, and working the land in accordance with “cosmic rhythms”. Such principles are often considered as beliefs tending toward esotericism. On a practical level, some of these methods are similar to those used in organic farming, such as lengthy crop rotations, moderate soil preparation, mechanical or thermal weed control and the composting of organic matter.
Biodynamic preparations include cow-horn manure prepared by filling cow horns with cow dung and burying them in the ground. These corns serve as ‘antennae’ to capture ‘cosmic forces’. This preparation is thought to stimulate soil life and root growth, as well as to improve crop resistance. Horn silica is also made by filling cow horns, but with finely ground quartz rather than dung, to encourage the growth of flowers and fruit on plants.
As to the influences of cosmic rhythms on the soil, following on from Rudolph Steiner, several researchers claimed to have observed links with life processes. They went on to draw up a calendar indicating the periods favourable for sowing, planting, tillage, pruning and harvesting, and even for making wine and processing food (bread, cheese, etc.).
Over time, organic farming took on certain aspects of biodynamics, although with a more pragmatic approach, moving away from anthroposophy, discarding any notions not proven in practice, and developing new scientifically proven solutions.
Biodynamics and the Demeter label around the world
Today, biodynamic farming is practised across the world and there are Demeter certified farms in over 50 countries. The Demeter standard ensures farms respect biodynamic practices and guarantees the quality of processed products. In 2018, there were 5350 producers and almost 1500 food wholesalers and processors, with 190 000 hectares of land cultivated across the world.
In a bid to boost sales of food products with Demeter certification, since autumn 2016 two leading supermarket chains in Switzerland have included such products in their range. However, the quantity of food produced under the Demeter Suisse label still exceeds sales. To reduce producers’ food waste and financial losses, this surplus is sold under the less restrictive Bourgeon organic label, or even as a conventional product.