Frequently asked questions.
What is organic farming?
Organic farming is agricultural production without the use of artificial fertilisers or synthetic chemicals, while conserving soil and water and using renewable resources where possible.
What is the difference between Biodynamics and organics?
Biodynamics is an organic agricultural system that uses specific additional techniques (see tab about Australian Demeter Biodynamics). The most important additional technique is the use of the Biodynamic soil preparations that develop soil fertility and structure, enhancing biological activity, humus formation and root growth.
What is the National Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Produce?
The National Standard provides a framework for the organic industry covering production, processing, transportation, labelling and importation. It stipulates the requirements for products marketed as Organic or Biodynamic, and protects the consumer against deception or fraud. http://www.agriculture.gov.au/export/controlled-goods/organic-bio-dynamic/national-standard
In addition to this the Australian Demeter Biodynamic method has its own set of standards. http://www.demeter.org.au/Docs/Demeter%202012.pdf
What is organic matter?
Organic matter is any material that has once lived and can be broken down by the soil life (including plant matter, soil microbes and soil fauna such as earthworms and fungi).
What is colloidal humus?
Colloidal humus is fully digested organic matter, resulting from the processing of organic matter by worms, microbes and other elements of soil life. Worm casts are an important example of colloidal humus. It can hold around 75% of its volume as water and can store elements in a soluble form, available to plant roots - these elements do not disperse through the soil water.
What is good soil structure?
The most important element in soil is air which is essential for soil life, such as worms and microbes, to function. A well structured soil will have many rubbly lumps of various sizes joined together by root systems and air pockets and passages built by soil biology. The soil will crumble readily when not too dry or wet. A well structured soil resembles a chocolate cake that has risen well and has many air pockets (as the above right photo shows ). A poorly structured soil will resemble a chocolate cake that you forgot to add baking powder to. It will be hard packed with no air pockets.
What do you do when veterinary care or chemical drugs are needed?
If the biodynamic farmer is uncertified they can use veterinary care and drugs at their discretion. Certified biodynamic farmers have a reporting and quarantine system in place, that allows them to use the above when needed. Depending on the treatment administered the animals can be quarantined, in an allocated area on the farm and then taken out of the food producing system for a time or sold off if need be.
What is sheet composting ?
Sheet composting is done using organic materials out in the paddock or production area by slashing grass, harrowing or discing for example. Then in a biodynamic situation, prepared 500 is added to the soil to aid decomposition of the leaves and other organic matter on the top of the soil and the root systems etc below.
What is a green manure crop?
A diverse range of plants that are grown and plowed in correctly for the purpose of adding organic matter and energy to grow the next productive or cash crop. This process improves soil structure and releases important nutrients that come from soil micro-organisms decomposing the organic matter.
What is a Rehabilitator plough?
An implement designed by Mike Fix in association with Alex Podolinsky to till the soil whilst maintaining good structure. The tynes go deep in dry conditions at a slow pace to crack the soil rather than chop and smear it. The machine lifts the soil profile for air, water and plant roots to penetrate deeply whilst minimizing damage to soil biology.
(The video below shows the plough working on trial at one of the Elmore Field Days. Footage courtesy of Mike Fix.)
Has there been any research done on biodynamics?
In Victoria in 1991 the Dairy Research and Development Corporation funded a research project comparing 10 Biodynamic irrigation dairy farms in the Goulburn Valley with 10 neighbouring conventional dairy farms.
- no bloat in Biodynamic dairy cows;
- the incidence of metabolic disorders in Biodynamic cows was significantly lower;
- Biodynamic cows had higher selenium levels, were more fertile and remained productive for longer;
- Biodynamic cows were not chemically drenched for worms but had similar worm egg counts, and; production was higher on conventional farms (largely due to 600% higher grain feeding) but costs were also higher, the net incomes being quite similar.
The Victorian Agriculture Department vet involved in the study commented that the higher selenium levels in Biodynamic cows were critically important in their higher fertility rates.
Source: Small, D., McDonald, J., and Wales, B. "Alternative Farming Practices Applicable to the Dairy Industry", reporting on a joint project between Department of Agriculture, Victoria and the Dairy Research and Development Corporation (Project DAV 193), Kyabram Dairy Centre, Institute of Sustainable Irrigated Agriculture, Kyabram, Sept. 1994. pages 1-3 .
Has Biodynamic Research shown any environmental benefits?
The Biodynamic soil structure is considered to be more open and friable allowing faster infiltration of rain or irrigation water. Some studies have shown higher organic carbon levels on biodynamically managed farms compared with conventional neighbours. (Refer to the links below)
Studies have shown Biodynamic soils sequestering substantial amounts of carbon dioxide, and allowing soils to hold large amounts of water and assist with the development of nutrients, allowing pasture and crops to grow better in dry conditions.
There are very low levels of dissolved elements in the soil water (elements are held in the soil humus), the risk of NPK runoff from Biodynamic farms (research was done by S. Cock, Latrobe University confirming this) is lower, thus reducing the contribution to blue-green algal outbreaks; and salinity can be reversed (as soil structure improves, salt can gradually filter down beyond root penetration.
This has been demonstrated at Hyden, WA, including aerial photos of the neighbouring farms five years apart showing dramatic improvement on the Biodynamic farm and further degradation on the conventional farm bringing saline land slowly back into production. (Refer to links below)
Source: Russell, J. and Frescher, E. (n.d.). A Comparison of Biodynamic and Conventionally Managed Soils - Hyden,Western Australia. Latrobe University www.bionew.com.au/files/view/?id=434;
Russell, J. (n.d.). Interesting Outcomes in a Comparison of Biodynamic and Conventionally Managed Soils - Callawadda, Victoria, Australia www.grazingbestprac.com.au/research/soil/BD%20experiment.pdf