Guide to Biodynamic Farming
Kiss the Ground’s Guide to Biodynamic Farming highlights the principles of biodynamics, explains the benefits it provides, addresses the differences between biodynamic and organic farming, and provides resources to get involved.
What is Biodynamic Farming?
Biodynamic farming is both regenerative and organic, integrating practices from each. The practice – overseen by The Biodynamic Federation Demeter International (BFDI) – offers many benefits including:
- No artificial fertilizers or pesticides
- Soil that is regenerated and improved
- Less flooding, drought, and fire hazards
- Encourages diversity of life to create resilience
- Food full of vitality and nutrients – no GMOs, no chemicals1
- Low-cost, low-tech farming that everybody can practice
The BFDI is a non-profit that represents more than 7,000 farmers with about 230,000 hectares in 65 countries on all continents, except Antarctica. In 36 of these countries, farmers have gathered in biodynamic organizations2, such as the Biodynamic Association.
A biodynamic farmer sees their farm as its own ecosystem, supporting the wellbeing of the whole: soil and shrubs; flowers and meadows; forests and wetlands; cultivated land, animals, and people.
At its core, biodynamics creates habitats for plants and animals to thrive, which produces food that is full of vitality and nutrients. Biodynamics never uses Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) because it’s aimed at preserving our environment and biodiversity.
Soil fertility is of critical importance on Biodynamic farms. Healthy soil not only improves the content and flavor of biodynamic food, it is also the foundation for healthy ecosystems. As you learn about Biodynamics, it’s worth considering that what Biodynamics does not permit, is permitted in other forms of farming and food production.
Biodynamic Farming Principles
Biodynamic farmers pay close attention to the ratio of animals they have on their farms in order to keep their ecosystem thriving. This is in stark contrast to conventionally farmed grain-fed animals living in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).
Animals living on Biodynamic farms are fed a 100% organic diet—at least 80% of the feed ration for ruminants, and at least 50% for all other animals, must be biodynamically produced. A minimum of 50% of the fodder comes from the farm itself or a nearby partner.4
Biodynamic animals are never fed GMOs or hormones, never treated with antibiotics, and never forced to grow faster than nature intended.5
Biodynamically produced milk is full of flavor, and contains high levels of vitamin E and beta-carotene. The creamy fat contains the optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, about 1:1. Balancing these fats is an essential part of a healthy diet.6 According to to See What Your Plants Ate by David Montgomery and Anne Bikle, conventional dairy could see a ratio as high as 6:1.
Research has shown that an animal’s horns are important for communication within the herd, physical heat balance, digestion, and metabolism. For this reason, Biodynamic farmers do not remove their cattle’s horns.7
Chickens are smart and sociable. On Biodynamic farms, chickens are free to scratch and roam outside. They produce meat and eggs with a balanced nutritional content, providing us with the nourishment that nature intended. Compared to simply Organic regulations, chickens on Biodynamic farms have more space to roam on perches, and at feeding and drinking stations.10
By integrating animals, Biodynamic farmers are able to use nutrient-rich manure and vegetable waste to produce compost that cycles nutrients back into the soil and improves soil life.
Regenerating our land is an essential part of mitigating climate change.
Compared to Organic and other forms of agriculture, Biodynamics incorporates preparations made using herbs, minerals, and cow manure to help stimulate and improve soil life, in a natural and balanced way.
Research has shown that Biodynamic compost preparations increase soil life, which helps grow strong and robust plants that are more resistant to pests and diseases.13
- More rooting intensity
- More earthworm mass
- More activity of microorganisms
- Less leakage of nitrous oxide
Want to discover what would happen if we diverted the 60 billion pounds of mineral-rich food materials that go to landfills each year in the U.S. alone, and turned them into compost?
— Biodynamic Gardening: Grow healthy plants and amazing produce with the help of moon and nature’s cycles by Monty Waldrin
Regenerative Farming Practices
Correctly managed pasture-fed animals—using holistic planned grazing— offset more greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 equivalent) than they create, and can regenerate the land to absorb and retain water, and increase biodiversity.17
By regularly growing their crops in different locations—called crop rotation—Biodynamic farmers help to improve the mineral content of their soil, reduce soil pests, and improve the quality and yields of the food that they produce.11
Soil armor—known as green manure or cover cropping where the soil is always covered with living plants or crop residue, wood chips, or mulch—is another way that Biodynamic farmers improve their soil and the nutrient density of the food they produce. Cover cropping avoids bare soil, which is more vulnerable to wind and water erosion. Bare soil also gets much hotter at midday and colder at night, and in general, makes it much harder for soil biology to thrive.17
Biodynamic vs. Organic Farming Practices
Biodynamics encourages the use of compost and spray extract preparations that are produced using nutrient giving and resilience building plants.13
When used together, Biodynamic preparations either enhance the life of the soil and the relationship between soil and plants (increasing plant immunity) or strengthen photosynthesis and enhance ripening.13
It’s important to note that Biodynamics helps farmers to be as self-sufficient as possible. Biodynamic preparations can be made by anybody, making them low-cost and accessible to all, which helps farmers avoid the purchase of expensive artificial fertilizers and pesticides.
Farming with the Sun, Mood and Cosmos
Plants don’t have the freedom to choose what they eat or how much light they get, which means they are attuned to the influences of nature and the seasonal cycles.
When you stop to consider that the power of the moon’s gravity can affect the tides on Earth 18, it’s easy to appreciate how that same power can affect the water in the soil or sap in plants; and the amount of extra sunlight reflected at night during a full moon. And, the moon is just one of many influences.
Biodynamic gardeners and farmers observe the rhythms and cycles of the earth, sun, moon, stars, and planets and seek to understand the subtle ways that the environment and wider cosmos influence the growth and development of plants and animals.15
Extensive research shows there are optimal times to conduct work on the farm from planting and sowing to harvesting and pruning.14 The Maria Thun Biodynamic Almanac is the go-to for Biodynamic farmers and gardeners.
Benefits of Biodynamic Farming
Biodynamic farming has shown these initial benefits:
- More Flowering Plants: 80% more diversity of flowering plants. 9
- More Pollinators: 3-7 times as many bee species.9
- Increased Biodiversity: Biodynamic farmers plant vegetables, herbs, flowers, berries, fruits, nuts, grains, pasture, forage, and pollinator hedgerows.9
- Healthy Soil: Reducing the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere and storing it in the soil as carbon.16
- More Soil Life: 50% to 80% more soil optimizers, like earthworms.9
- Less Flooding and Drought: Regenerating soil and keeping land covered with living plants can drastically reduce flooding and drought.9
- Reduced Fire Hazards: Increased soil moisture, sustained plant growth, and more local rainfall.17
- Reduced Dead Zones & Water Pollution: Without the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides, Biodynamic farms have less runoff, and less underground water contamination.17 As a consumer, it might feel like you can’t change how farmers produce their food, however, by making conscious buying decisions and choosing products that are good for people and the planet, you will be voting with your money, and encouraging farmers to switch from conventional to regenerative, organic, and Biodynamic.
How To Support Biodynamic Farming
As a consumer, it might feel like you can’t change how farmers produce their food, however, by making conscious buying decisions and choosing products that are good for people and the planet, you will be voting with your money, and encouraging farmers to switch from conventional to regenerative, organic, and Biodynamic.
If you have a bit of time, and a bit of space, you could try Biodynamic gardening to grow your own vegetables.
Buying from a local farm is a great way to know how your food is produced. If you get onto a farm tour or visit a farm shop or grocery store, you can ask:
- How is the soil kept healthy?
- Is compost used (i.e. is it made on the farm)?
- Are cover crops used?
- How do you choose which fertilizers to use?
- How do you deal with pests and diseases?
- Are crops rotated around the farm?
Biodynamic farming gives back more than it takes, helps to improve the climate crisis, and produces food in a way that allows people, animals, plants, and the planet to live and thrive, together.
About the Author
- Demeter products – Demeter International
- Organization – Demeter International
- Soilconnection – Demeter International
- Quality – Demeter International
- Meat – Demeter International
- Dairy – Demeter International
- Animal Husbandry – Demeter International
- Net Zero Coalition | United Nations
- Biodiversity – Demeter International
- Eggs & Poultry – Demeter International
- Biodynamic Gardening Book
- Every 5 seconds, the equivalent of one soccer field is lost
- Biodynamic Preparations – Demeter International
- Maria Thun Biodynamic Calendar 2024 – Floris Books
- Biodynamic Principles and Practices
- Soil – soil fertility and essential role for climate action
- Regenerative Agriculture Talking Points 2020, Kiss the Ground
- Tides – Moon: NASA Science