Lessons Learned from Biodynamic Farming

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

I was talking to a very experienced vineyard manager last week who shared with me his experiment of converting a small number of acres to biodynamic. It was something that he decided to instigate, with the blessing of the vineyard owner, as he was curious about the potential outcome. To cut right to the end of the story, he saw much improved soil tilth and overall vine health. Tilth generally refers to the physical condition of the soil as it relates to plant growth. Favorable tilth implies good conditions for seed germination and root proliferation, allowing crops to thrive. Good soil tilth facilitates other processes, such as water infiltration and aeration, which benefit both crop and environment. It’s typically equated with aggregation (presence of soil crumbs), because stable aggregates promote these favorable processes.

“Biodynamic” is a word that combines “biological” and “dynamic.” The biological component includes many of the principles of organic agriculture: a focus on soil, including biodiversity and rotations for fertility and to keep “pests” in balance, nonuse of synthetic chemicals (and more recently nonuse of genetically engineered organisms). The dynamic component considers the role of ethereal and cosmic forces on the individuality of the farm.

So why talk about biodynamic farming and what lessons can be learned? Clearly, on a commercial level it’s not very practical given that the process is very challenging in obtaining and processing materials, Also, it’s labor intensive and labor, frankly, is becoming the most highly valued resource for any grower. However, after my discussion, there are some key take-a-ways that are worth further consideration given the results he obtained in just one season of biodynamic farming.

The first point being that the timing of product applications may be just as important as the application itself. Crops uptake nutrients at important milestones in their development. Two big windows of uptake, for example, are early in the season at bud push, when soils are coming to life, and post-harvest as perennial crops store food for their dormant period. In all of our crop programs, we distinguish key product application timings based on the particular crop’s development cycle, and we do our best to keep our growers on schedule.

The other interesting point worth asking is, can we substitute high quality inputs similar to what biodynamic farming advocates? It’s highly conceivable that we could supply exceptional quality organic and sustainable inputs — again, at key intervals. The thinking is that it’s better to provide fewer higher quality inputs at key times than a greater number of average or unexceptional products. The nuance is also that higher quality inputs are more likely to provide greater biodiversity or, more specifically, biodiversity of soil microbes from biologically active products.

Finally, researchers speculate that many of the unique ingredients used in biodynamics can positively affect soil by regulating hormones and acting as biostimulants . Andaman Ag sells a number of biostimulants that are used in conjunction with conventional, sustainable or organic inputs creating a synergistic effect for improving crop health, production and quality. Biostimulants include humic/fulvic acids, seaweed/botanical extracts, protein hydrolysates, chitosan/biopolymers, beneficial minerals, bacteria and fungi.

Andaman Ag has recently formed a new partnership with Vital Earth, the manufacturer of a biostimulant product called VitaZyme. Interesting enough, one of my best customers has been using VitaZyme for quite some time and couldn’t say enough good things about the benefits of the product, including that it’s very safe to use.

VitaZyme is a liquid concentrate consisting of particular biological activators that are created through a proprietary fermentation process. These active agents include vitamins, enzymes, triacontanol and other powerful but gentle growth contributors that have a significant benefit on plant growth and soil conditions by promoting more intensive biological nitrogen fixation, and by stimulating natural rhizosphere organisms to produce needed plant growth factors. The product has many supporting case studies. It works as a foliar application too.