How did we get here?
With a background in science, tempered by a family legacy of peasant farming, my initial response to vineyard management was to avoid all chemical inputs apart from roundup (glyphosate) used for weed control under vine. This was partly because of the widely advertised and generally accepted (at the time) safety of the chemical but also because of the absence of available alternatives for weed control.
Well, the folly of this approach was soon apparent with 2 problems quite separate to the unpleasantness of using the product.
Undervine soil became progressively harder and more lifeless losing its initial friable softness meaning rainfall ran off rather than soaked in as soil organic matter quickly declined.
At the same time whilst plants sensitive to herbicide were easily killed, the environmental niche thus vacated was quickly filled with plants more resistant to herbicide requiring progressively greater applications of chemical for weed control.
It became obvious the use of herbicides was creating long term problems instead of forming part of a complimentary management system.
So in 1997 we decided to farm organically, only a small step we thought, since apart from herbicide use we were already doing that. Without appropriate skills and equipment however this became a very difficult transition. Our soil improved a little over several years but organic management always seemed like a negative discipline (avoiding chemicals) rather than a positive engagement with nature. It was only on hearing of and researching the Biodynamic method of farming in 1999 that the possibility of an integrated holistic method of farming entirely based on natural inputs, producing improved environmental outcomes and superior quality product could be contemplated. I say contemplated because actually to me it seemed too good to be true. Early sampling of Biodynamic produce including blind tastings with family and friends demonstrated the remarkable superiority of the product vs organic and conventional and this remains a consistent experience
Biodynamic agriculture is practiced around the world and in Australia certification from several different organisations is possible. The success of the method depends on a practical understanding of soil physiology ( how soil works), a sensitive approach to soil management (including methods of cultivation, green manuring and rotational grazing if livestock are involved) and importantly the production, storage and application of a series of 8 living natural preparations used on soil, plants and in compost production.
The Australian Demeter method of Biodynamic farming developed by Alex Podolinsky pays great attention to all details of the method. Alex was aware of the importance of each step in the method and of the powerful results possible when all steps effectively combine in the final result. This attention to detail based on an enlightened understanding of living soil and its relationship to plant growth makes the Australian Demeter method of Biodynamics the most effective form of holistic natural farming used today.
If you have walked in a forest, climbed a mountain or even stood on a beach you will have seen at least glimpses of the power of the natural world, so absent in the everyday lives of most people today. Using the Biodynamic method places that power in the hand of the farmer and allows them to engage and observe it every day.
The most obvious result is better quality food with massive environmental benefit. Less obvious is the satisfaction, agency and downright joy given to the farmer. There is precious little joy mixing chemicals to apply to food crops as a slave of the chemical farming industry and it’s no surprise to see children of conventional farmers increasingly choosing careers off farm and the resulting steady increase in average farming age and depopulation of the countryside. Holding the tail of the tiger of nature and learning how to skew it towards our aims whilst at the same time improving its own integrity is the gift of the Biodynamic method and it is endlessly rewarding.