One of the questions that I’m most frequently asked is “What’s the difference between biodynamic and organic farming and what the heck does biodynamic mean anyway?” It’s a fair question that is increasingly relevant to the consumer as biodynamic wines garner more attention in the media. You may know that organic farming basically requires that no synthetic chemicals are used and that the system is sustainable, meaning it is self-contained and endlessly renewable. Biodynamic agriculture is an extension of those ideals and a philosophy that has some pretty New Age sounding ideas but actually dates back to 1924 when Rudolph Steiner gave a series of lectures to German farmers who had noticed that the health of their crops had deteriorated with the use of chemical fertilizers. His central idea was that the farm is an organism and that each of its parts is interdependent, including the farmer.
Biodynamic agriculture focuses on promoting soil health which proponents claim is the key to everything from minimizing the impact of pests and weeds to maximizing quality. Additionally, the farm is believed to be best served by being self-sustaining. Soil health is achieved mainly by creating organic compost using 7 “preparations” which Steiner proposed and can be found here. Two field preparations are outlined as well, including stuffing a cow horn with manure and burying it, and spraying a solution of crushed quartz and water over the field.
Animals are integral to biodynamic farming and ideally the manure should come from animals living on the farm itself. Astrology also figures heavily into the philosophy, and the position of heavenly bodies governs the timing of planting, fertilization and the harvest. If you’re the pragmatic type who scoffs when somebody asks you what your sign is, consider that the term “harvest moon” is deeply ingrained into our culture. The practice continues to evolve and include new ideas: In Deerfield’s vineyard there are several large boulders placed strategically (if not conveniently) to “anchor” the energy of the vineyard and prevent it from escaping.
To ensure that agricultural producers meet the stringent requirements that the philosophy espouses, Demeter International has certified farmers in the practice of biodynamic agriculture in over 50 countries since 1928. Organic and bio dynamic farming have significant benefits over conventional farming, including higher quality produce, more efficient, sustainable crops, and improved soil conditions. A high-profile blind tasting hosted by Fortune had top judges picking wines produced from biodynamically grown grapes 9 times out of 10. Personally I believe that ecological systems work best in the long term when modeled after natural systems and for that reason the core principles of biodynamic agriculture seem like a common sense approach.