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What is biodynamic agriculture?

 

The biodynamic agriculture originated from eight lectures held by Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy, in June 1924 in Schloss Koberwitz (see left photo). Later the lectures were published in a book entitled "Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture". The title makes clear what matters to Steiner primarily. He wanted to extend the agricultural knowledge of his time and to put it on a broader basis of insight with the help of the spiritual science he developed. The "agricultural course" of R. Steiner is the basis and source of the biodynamic agriculture.


The farm as an agricultural individuality

An agricultural estate comes to full expression as a 'farm' the best sense of the word if it can be regarded as being a kind of separate individuality, according to Steiner in the second lecture of the agricultural course, a self-contained individuality. Everything that is needed to bring forth agricultural products should be supplied by the farm itself which includes, of course, the necessary livestock. This is the condition, Steiner said, which every agricultural estate should approach as near as possible, but it cannot be completely attained. Under this point of view everything that is brought in from the outside, for example fertilizers, must be regarded as a kind of medicine for a sick farm.

cows

To understand an agricultural estate as an individuality, as an organism of higher order is a fundamental biodynamic criterion. It has been taken over also by other methods of organic farming. The advantages of a mixed farm compared to a simply structured, specialized farm, have been examined and described in the scientific literature many times. Steiner's concept of the agricultural individuality still goes beyond it. It includes also the surrounding area of the farm, its relationship to the landscape, its connection with nature, the terrestrial as well as cosmic periphery.

As each organism the agricultural estate is a system that is bounded to the outside, and is also open to its environment. Various exchange relations take place between organism/estate and environment. The term of the self-contained individuality cannot be understood as being sealed towards the external world, but rather in the sense of being consistent in itself. Concerning the relations of the estate to the environment it is of relevance to reduce losses of organic matter and nutrients as much as possible so that sufficient nutrients remain in the farm cycle. Apart from the quantity of the circulating materials, it depends on the fact that the kind of the substances and the intensity of their circulation are determined by the activities of the organisms involved (for example soil organisms and livestock). Excessive import, e.g. of fertilizers and feedstuffs, would over-feed the farm organism. On the other hand, its efficiency (productivity) would be too weak altogether or in special functions, if the biological activity of the organisms involved is too low, or if the material losses are too high.


Animals on the farm

The animal as an ensouled being is of utmost importance on biodynamic farms. The farm profits by the presence of the animal by gaining valuable fodder crops in the crop rotation on the one hand and high quality manure, especially by ruminants, on the other hand. The animals are almost exclusively fed on in-farm fodder – in the figurative sense, with the fodder the cow gets a taste of the entire farm. By offering a well balanced rate of stabling and run, of conspecific contact and human care, the farmers try to create a species appropriate livestock management. It is the aim to organise the livestock management and breeding according to the animal's nature and its needs as a domestic animal. Thereby, the “man as a companion” takes an important position.

Source:
Demeter-Leitbild: Biologisch-Dynamisch. Ein Arbeitstext. Forschungring Materialien Nr . 9, 1999/2002


The biodynamic preparations

Löwenzahnpräparat fertig  
The biodynamic preparations are produced with natural substances. They are applied in minute doses to enhance soil life, plant growth and quality as well as animal health. There are different kinds of preparations for certain application purposes: Field or spray preparations (horn manure and horn silica), compost preparations (yarrow, chamomile, nettle, oak bark, dandelion and valerian
preparation). Furthermore, special preparations such as a horsetail decoction and the ash preparations in order to control weeds and pests.

The preparations are a non-replaceable element of biodynamic agriculture. They are an important help for producing food with Demeter quality. Their use is a compulsory requirement of the Demeter standards.

Principles of how to produce the preparations
The production of the preparations takes place on the farm. The preparations are made with certain plant materials, cow manure or quartz meal. The materials are placed in certain animal organs as a cover and fermented in the soil at least half a year. Before using the preparations remaining residues of animal organs are removed.

Even with the production of the preparations it is intended to remain in connnection with biological processes. The function of the animal organs is to concentrate the constructive and formative living forces from the surroundings to the substances within the organs. With this special way of production, being comparable to the potentiation process of homeopathic remedies, the preparations
develop a strong yet subtle power. (for more information to the production methods, see Wistinghausen et al., 2000).

Application and mode of action of the preparations
The application rate of the biodynamic spray preparations are 300 gram per hectare horn manure and 5 gram per hectare horn silica. The compost preparations are applied with quantities of 1-2 cm3 each per 10 m3 compost, farmyard manure or liquid manure. The mentioned amounts of horn manure and horn silica are vigorously stirred in 20-50 litres of water per hectare for one hour. As soon as possible after stirring the preparations should be evenly sprayed out on acres and grassland.

The compost preparations are brought spotwise into the organic material. According to Rudolf Steiner, they radiate their forces into the compost. Further specific application methods are described by Wistinghausen et al. (2000). The turnover processes in organic fertilizers are stimuleted by the preparations. The intensive stimulation of soil life by prepared fertilizer can be measured by some
characteristics, e.g. increase of humus content or enzyme activities or more intensive root growth. Examples of a better product quality caused by the preparations are lower storage losses, reduced nitrate contents and higher contents of sugar and vitamins.

The preparations' mode of action is to stimulate harmonizing living processes. There is no direct nutrient effect of the preparations. The preparations support the self regulation of biological systems (Raupp und König 1996).


Literatur:

  • Abele, U. (1978). Ertragssteigerung durch Flüssigmistbehandlung. Untersuchung des Rotteverlaufs von Gülle bei verschiedener Behandlung und deren Wirkung auf Boden, Pflanzenertrag und Pflanzenqualität. KTBL-Schrift 224. Darmstadt.
  • Kjellenberg, L. (1989). De biodynamiska preparaten- i forskning och försök. Nordisk Forschungsring meddelande nr. 33 Järna/Norrköping
  • Koepf, H.H. (1981). The principles and practice of biodynamic agriculture. In: Stonehouse, B. (ed.): Biological Husbandry. Butterworths, London etc.; 237-250

  • Koepf, H.H. (1996). Biologisch-Dynamische Forschung. Methoden und Ergebnisse. Verlag Freies Geistesleben, Stuttgart

  • König, U.-J. (1999). Ergebnisse aus der Präparateforschung. Lose-Blatt-Sammlung. Schriftenreihe des Instituts für Biologisch-Dynamische Forschung, Band 12, Darmstadt
  • Lammerts Van Bueren, E.; Beekman-de Jonge, J. (1995): Biologisch-dynamische spuitpräparaten imn ontwikkeling. 70 jaar praktijk onderzoek en visie. Driesbergen
  • Rasmussen, J. (1986). Biodynamiske hornpraeparater- Aspekter af et udvidet natursyn. (Diss. Kopenhagen.) Kopenhagen
  • Raupp, J. (2000). The well-proportioned farm organism. Just a pleasing image of a mixed farming system or rather a basic requirement for functioning organic husbandry? In: Alföldi, Th.; Lockeretz, W.; Niggli, U. (eds.), Proc. 13th Int. IFOAM Sci. Conf., August 2000 Basel; vdf Hochschulverlag (ETH Zürich); 700-703
  • Raupp, J.; König, U.J. (1996). Biodynamic preparations cause opposite yield effects depending upon yield levels. Biol. Agric. & Hort. 13, 175-188
  • Sattler, F.; Wistinghausen, E.v. (1989). Der landwirtschaftliche Betrieb. Biologisch-Dynamisch. Ulmer Verlag, Stuttgart.
  • Schaumann, W.; Breda, E.; Heinze, H. (1975). Zielsetzungen und Wege der Biologisch-Dynamischen Wirtschaftsweise in der gegenwärtigen Situation der Welt-Landwirtschaft. Sonderdruck, hrsg. vom Forschungsring für Biologisch-Dynamische Wirtschaftsweise, Darmstadt
  • Steiner, R. (1999). Geisteswissenschaftliche Grundlagen zum Gedeihen der Landwirtschaft. Landwirtschaftlicher Kursus 1924. Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach (CH)
  • Wistinghausen, C.v.; Scheibe, W.; Wistinghausen, E.v.; König, U.J. (2000). The biodynamic spray and compost preparations. Production methods. Biodynamic Agricultural Association, England
  • Wistinghausen, C.v.; Scheibe, W.; Heilmann, H.; Wistinghausen, E.v.; König, U.J. (2003). The biodynamic spray and compost preparations. Directions for use. Biodynamic Agricultural Association, England

 

Links to aspects of biodynamic agriculture and anthroposophy:

www.oekolandbau.de (in German)

Organic Consumers Association (USA)

literature archive of works by Rudolf Steiner

Rudolf Steiner online archive; writings, drama, essays, lectures from various fields of anthroposophy

 

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