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.

Some History

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.

Principles of Biodynamic Agriculture

1. Everything is connected.

Nature (and so our world) is made of an almost infinite series of interconnected relationships. Understanding this provides the perspective required to avoid the unintended consequences of thoughtless reactions. (handy also in personal and international relations)

2. The Soil.

This is more interesting than it looks! Soil is composed of 4 things. a/ Mineral b/ Water c/ Organic matter d/ Air

In its natural undisturbed state, organic matter in soil has been converted into humus by the action of aerobic bugs. This is a colloidal material which maintains the soil in a loose crumbly structure allowing for plenty of air spaces between soil aggregates which in turn allows the bugs to thrive. The activity of these bugs also helps render mineral nutrients into a soluble form available for plants however all of these nutrients are bound into the humus and so the soil water contains virtually no nutrient. This means that when excess water runs off soil it carries no nutrient away into rivers/lakes/oceans/reefs.

3. The Plant.

As plants convert sunlight and CO2 into sugars they inevitably transpire water into the atmosphere and this water must be replaced from the soil. Plants use older darker roots to obtain this water which as explained above in healthy soil is nutrient free. When plant growth as dictated by the suns warmth requires nutrient the plant uses young fine white roots to access nutrient from soil humus. So the plant can access water or nutrient or both as dictated by the sun.

4. Agriculture.

All farming is an unnatural process that inevitably damages soil structure and microbial activity thus reducing available nutrients for plant growth. This damage is worsened by compaction from heavy machinery (removing air from soil) and antimicrobial actions of herbicides.

The contemporary conventional response to this problem is to replace unavailable soil nutrient with manufactured soluble fertiliser (NPK-nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium). In a soil without air and thus without biological activity (further diminished by the toxicity of the fertiliser on soil microbes) this fertiliser remains dissolved in soil water. In this circumstance the plant can no longer access pure water but is obliged to take in NPK at the same time and this force feeding results in the unhealthy, disease prone, tasteless plants of todays supermarkets. In addition any runoff is nutrient rich thus polluting groundwater and streams.

5.The Biodynamic Solution.

Recognising all of the problem outlined above, Steiner revealed a solution to the cause (rather than the conventional response to the effect) using the preparation 500. The effect of this powerful preparation is to stimulate microbial activity resulting in production of humus and available nutrients, repair of soil structure and thus fixation of carbon in soil. An informed understanding of soil processes explained by Alex Podolinsky has also allowed development of cultivation tools and methods which minimise soil damage.