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Home » Featured, Headline, The Farm

Biodynamic Agriculture: A First Impression

Submitted by on January 31, 2010 – 2:14 amNo Comment

I attended the Guelph Organic Conference today expecting nothing more than to be introduced to the people and ideas shaping the practice of organic farming in southwestern Ontario. Keep an open mind, I said to myself. God knows I have a lot to learn about farming. I want to make clear that the vast majority of the people and trade booths that I encountered were, if not enthralling, at least not offensive to reason. There does seem, however, to be a lunatic fringe infesting the organic movement that goes by the pseudo-scientific name “biodynamic agriculture”. Now, if you’re not familiar with the practice of biodynamic farming be prepared to scratch your head and laugh.

In response to European farmers during the 1920’s who noticed that their fields were gradually deprived of nutrients and micro-organic activity following the use of synthetic fertilizers, Rudolph Steiner offered this remedy in order to transfer “supernatural terrestrial and cosmic ‘forces’ into the soil”:

First, prepare your soil by burying within it a cow’s horn stuffed with manure. This is to be done in the autumn and the horn and its contents recovered in the spring. Next, stuff crushed powdered quartz into a cow’s horn. This should be buried in the spring and recovered in the fall. Both of these mixtures can be used during the growing season by mixing it in a ratio of 1 part magic horn content : 10000 parts water. Such is the awesome power of the magic horn.

Seven other equally ridiculous potions are described to prepare your compost. Stuff the urinary bladder of a Red Deer with Yarrow blossoms, according to one method. Leave it in the sun for the summer and bury it in the ground for the winter and retrieve it in the spring. In another preparation, oak bark is chopped and put into the skull of a domesticated animal, wrapped in peat and buried near running water. I’ll take a flier here and, despite being a non-scientist myself, hypothesise that the significant idea at work here is that these, as well as the other five equally bizarre preparations, are made to enhance your compost. Composting, it seems likely, is the contributing factor to improved soil conditions, a method that biodynamic farming has in common with more conventional organic farming and what both of these farming philosophies have in contrast to industrial agriculture.

But what harm can it do, one might argue, if some farmer wants to waste his time stuffing skulls and bladders and waiting for the ideal lunar cycle to plant their crops so long as the soil remains well composted and the vegetable or fruit that is grown is healthy and of high quality? In my mind, it hurts the credibility of the organic farming movement as a whole when you attend an agricultural convention at a highly respected institution of higher learning and have to wade through several booths of ludicrous, new age hooey in the midst of the more serious minded practitioners. I can’t speak from experience, but I suspect that Creationists or so-called Intelligent Design proponents would not be permitted to threaten the credibility of a conference of evolutionary biologists. But I also suspect that at least the agenda and the absurdity of such people are well known enough in those circles and even in the general public as to make such people stand out like a sore thumb making them far less threatening. Biodynamic agriculture, however, doesn’t yet seem to be called out for what it is – bad science and strange religion.

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