The Difference Between Certified Biodynamic® and USDA Organic Agriculture

By Jim Fullmer, Director Demeter® USA

The story of Biodynamic® and organic agriculture is not one of two separate movements. Biodynamic agriculture is clearly one of the original foundations of publicly recognized organic agriculture. It began in 1924 when 2 groups of concerned farmers approached Dr. Rudolf Steiner who, at that time in Europe, was a highly respected philosopher and scientist. Their basic concern was a noticeable and relatively rapid decline in both crop and animal vitality. After much persuasion Rudolf Steiner presented a series of lectures on "Agriculture". This occurred while in the later stages of a truly prolific lifetime. Biodynamic agriculture appeared in the same time period as the furious onset of the "green revolution" that initiated the widespread use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. It was an opposing view to the direction that global agriculture was rapidly moving at the time. It was decades later that other organic pioneers began to further articulate this "new" form of agriculture.

Biodynamic farm management relies on close attention to the interrelation of the farm's parts (i.e. fertility management, water management, pest control, etc.), rather than solely isolating and concentrating on its individual parts.  In practice this entails managing a farm in such a way that inputs, which otherwise would need to be imported from off the farm, arise from within the living dynamics of the farm itself.

At some point in time there was a divergence from this fundamental thought underlying organic farming. While many in the "organic farming movement" continued to be guided by this principle, and still do to this day, there also arose an organic agriculture that was guided by the pressures of supply and demand economics.

The original idea of organic agriculture requires cooperation with living systems inherent to this planet. Fertility, for example, is based on the recycling of organic material that is generated on the farm. In one way or another raw organic materials are fed to an army of soil life that use it as food. The organisms die and in return provide nutrition to growing crops.

The concept of "time" that these systems operate in is biological in nature. It is rhythmic, based on seasons, weather patterns, sunrise and sunset. It is this biological time that dictates how quickly a farm can reach a level of fine tuned efficiency and maximum productivity.

The network of biology can be intensified and moved along to a degree, but the system can not be pushed beyond its means without bringing in help in the form of imported materials.  Bringing in materials reintroduces some of the same set of problems that conventional agriculture presents, namely dependence on the earth's natural resource to transport, mine and refine a myriad of materials that are shipped all over the world. By its nature this puts pressure on natural resources and the natural systems from where these materials are mined or harvested.

For there to be a supply of product based on the production of a network of "farm organisms" there has to be foresight in developing the right farming systems to generate the supply. A farm that has been severely neglected can take up to a decade to be revived. There is an intense biological regeneration that has to occur.

When the demand for organic food exploded, the only way to meet this demand was to fortify the existing farm systems with materials imported from outside. This reality has created a new form of organic farming that has diverged from its roots.

From the start Biodynamic agriculture has also maintained an expansive definition of the farm organism that does not stop at the fence line. Biodynamic farming takes into account that within the identity of any living microcosm is always the imprint of the wider macrocosm of which it is part. For a farming system the imprint of phenomenon taking place within the wider macrocosm of which it is part, such as the earth itself functioning as a living organism, and its relation to even wider systems such as the solar system, always has its identity with in the identity of the farm itself. Through such a holistic view Biodynamic farming is also an intensification of living nature. It is an intentional healing process that treats the Earth not unlike a naturopath/ homeopath doctor would treat a human being, as a living organism with wider connections.

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