On the farm

How bio­dy­namic agri­cul­ture is heal­ing our soil

Element - - Contents - By Gavin Healy

We have lost over 30% of the world’s top­soil in the last cen­tury and this is hav­ing an im­pact on hu­man­ity’s abil­ity to grow food. Bio­dy­nam­ics ex­perts call it ‘peak soil’, and say that cli­mate change and ex­ten­sive chem­i­cal farm­ing is com­pound­ing the prob­lem.

Lis Aling­ton, editor, Earth Mat­ters ex­plains: “Imag­ine the world is an ap­ple. If you chop it into 32 pieces, then just a sin­gle one of those pieces rep­re­sents the to­tal amount of land avail­able for pro­duc­ing food. If you peel the skin of this tiny piece of ap­ple then you’re left hold­ing a frag­ile sliver. It rep­re­sents the to­tal amount of top­soil from which to feed the en­tire pop­u­la­tion of the planet.”

Bio­dy­nam­ics was founded in 1924 by Aus­trian Dr. Ru­dolf Steiner. As an eco­log­i­cal farm­ing sys­tem, it en­cour­ages sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ships be­tween soil, plants and an­i­mals to cre­ate closed-loop farms that are guided by eco­log­i­cal prin­ci­ples.

This chem­i­cal-free farm­ing sys­tem lit­er­ally grows top­soil and as­sists in the bat­tle against CO2, as 80 per cent of the world’s car­bon is stored in the soil. Aling­ton con­firms that “more than 35 years of con­tin­u­ous tri­als on cul­ti­vated land have shown that, un­like farm­ing based on chem­i­cal-fer­tilis­ers or even a mix of pas­tures, live­stock and top­dress­ing as is the norm in New Zealand, bio­dy­namic farm­ing prac­tices con­serve and rejuvenate the top­soil. In fact the method tends to be bet­ter than or­ganic farm­ing, pro­duc­ing at least 25% higher lev­els of soil car­bon.”

The brix me­ter is a tool that shows lev­els of sug­ars, min­er­als, pro­teins and vi­ta­mins in a plant’s juices. Crops from bio­dy­namic farms have been shown to have a higher brix mea­sure­ment and nu­tri­ent den­sity. A 21-year study by the Re­search In­sti­tute of Or­ganic Agri­cul­ture (Fibl.org) in Switzer­land re­vealed that bio­dy­nam­ics had the high­est rate of nu­tri­ents and soil bio­di­ver­sity com­pared to con­ven­tional farm­ing and even or­gan­ics. Ac­cord­ing to this re­search bio­dy­namic farms are health­ier

and also fi­nan­cially vi­able. They had 20% less yield but can cost up to 50% less to run and use no pes­ti­cides. A 1993 study by the Bio­dy­namic Farm­ing and Gar­den­ing As­so­ci­a­tion of New Zealand com­pared fi­nan­cial per­for­mance of bio­dy­namic and con­ven­tional farms in New Zealand. The study con­cluded that the bio­dy­namic farms in the study “had bet­ter soil qual­ity than the neigh­bour­ing con­ven­tional farms and were just as fi­nan­cially vi­able on a per hectare ba­sis.”

The New Zealand agri busi­ness op­por­tu­nity is that bio­dy­nam­ics of­fers a lu­cra­tive ex­port to the Ger­man econ­omy which con­sumes the ma­jor­ity of global bio­dy­namic pro­duce – at a premium.

Aling­ton has a New Zealand Agri sci­ence de­gree and stud­ied bio­dy­nam­ics un­der the lead­ing pro­fes­sor of soil sci­ence, Dr. Her­bert Koepf, who was awarded an hon­orary doc­tor­ate for his ser­vices in bring­ing bio­dy­nam­ics into main­stream sci­ence. There are now pro­fes­so­rial chairs in or­ganic and bio­dy­namic agri­cul­ture at uni­ver­si­ties around the world.

“New Zealand prides it­self on be­ing a world leader in agri­cul­ture. But where are our fully funded de­part­ments ex­plor­ing the sci­ence and ap­pli­ca­tion of low-in­put bi­o­log­i­cal agri­cul­ture?” Aling­ton asks.

New Zealan­der Peter Proc­tor is a bio­dy­nam­ics ex­pert who has worked in the field for over 60 years. He is the author of the ac­claimed bio­dy­namic book Grasp the Net­tle and in his sev­en­ties went on a mis­sion bring­ing bio­dy­nam­ics to strug­gling agri­cul­tural com­mu­ni­ties in In­dia. There are univer­sity cour­ses, an en­tire bio­dy­namic cam­pus and thou­sands of bio­dy­namic farm­ing enterprises there thanks to his en­deav­ours. His jour­ney in In­dia was cap­tured in the doc­u­men­tary One Man, One Cow, One Planet.

Now in his eight­ies, Peter is more ded­i­cated than ever: “Its only by prac­ti­cally do­ing bio­dy­nam­ics that you see the real ev­i­dence that it works and I have worked on so many vi­brant bio­dy­namic farms around the world that prove it does.”

Peter is also con­vinced that bio­dy­nam­ics would re­duce New Zealand’s farm pol­lu­tion – pro­tect­ing our water, im­prov­ing the fer­til­ity of the land and pu­ri­fy­ing the air.

Deme­ter is a world­wide bio­dy­namic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion scheme sup­ported by the Bio Dy­namic Farm­ing and Agri­cul­ture As­so­ci­a­tion of New Zealand.

Above: Bio­dy­namic farm­ing uses com­posts and her­bal teas made from the ma­nure of horned cows. Left: Echi­nacea har­vest at Dr Hauschka bio­dy­namic gar­dens in Ger­many.

James Mill­ton, of Mill­ton Vinyeards in Gis­borne, above, is one of the 10 orig­i­nal bio­dy­namic wine­grow­ers on the planet and the only New Zealand mem­ber of the world-renowned group of bio­dy­namic wine­grow­ers, Re­nais­sance des Ap­pel­la­tions (Re­turn to Ter­roir). When asked why he uses bio­dy­nam­ics, his re­ply is sim­ple: “I wanted to pro­duce the best pos­si­ble wine.”

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