This page may be a little heavy going for some but we think the detail is important as the biodynamic method of agriculture is controversial in many quarters , largely because it is so poorly understood by its detractors and frequently misunderstood and misrepresented by those who claim to practice it.
Until the late 19th century all farming was “organic”, that is it relied solely on naturally available inputs. The German chemist Justus von Liebig discovered plants can only take up elements in a soluble form and this was rapidly followed by the development of the chemical fertiliser industry and greatly increased crop yields. Many farmers subsequently noticed a deterioration in crop quality and greatly increased animal health problems. A group of concerned landholders pressed Rudolph Steiner to propose an alternative method of agriculture which could allow economical production of high quality nutritious food without the use of these manmade inputs and thus eventuated the agriculture lectures of 1924 which form the basis of the biodynamic method.
Development of Method
Steiner proposed the use of 8 preparations made from natural products, one (p500) for use on soil, one (p501) for use on plants and 6 for use in preparation of compost, so important in the middle european farming system. Although Steiner had deep insight into the nature of plants and their interaction with soil and the environment he was not a practical farmer and so it was left to others to develop his insights into a practical method of farming. First amongst these was Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, a trained biochemist who worked closely with Steiner until his death in 1929 and then continued in his development of the method,performing and recording an extraordinary series of scientific experiments on all aspects of the method. It was he who named the preparation 500 based on his observation it contained 500 million aerobic bacteria per gram. Pfeiffers work in europe was shaped by the climate and small landholdings common to the time. Australian conditions were different in many ways with larger properties and a sometimes harsh climate.
For the biodynamic method to work in this country a larger scale methodology was required and this was achieved by the remarkable work of Alex Podolinsky working with pioneering and creative Australian farmers who together developed the Australian Demeter biodynamic method, widely used in Australia and increasingly throughout Asia and Europe.