Myths and Scientific Reality of Biodynamic Farming

Biodynamic farming simultaneously fits a classical model of pseudoscience. Primarily, it started as a pure pseudoscience. The idea was to farm according to the natural cycles, including herbalism, astrology, sympathetic magic, and homeopathic principles. Moreover, a specific type of planting had to be conducted under the proper phases of the moon and astrological signs. In addition, at the core of the practice are specific preparations, such as grinding quartz crystal, burying a cow horn on the farm over the summer, and then dispersing the results on a field.

Moreover, the practice also incorporates placing herbs and manure into the various parts of a cow and burying it for a season or two. In biodynamic farming, certain practices are advocated as being “organic.” These practices include limiting off-farm inputs, crop rotation, and refraining from artificial chemicals.

Consequently, the modern organic movement evolved out of biodynamic farming. Currently, biodynamic agriculture is on the rise because organic pseudoscience is inadequate to satisfy those people who require Grade A extra-concentrated pseudoscience.  Therefore, a modern biodynamic farm is an organic plus extra stuff, like using magical extracts and more severely limiting inputs. Astrology, seemingly, is discretionary. Hence, we have a combination of philosophy-based farming practices that may contribute to sustainability and other techniques that are pure magic. However, even many sustainable practices—such as organic farming—are not sustainable.

They can only exist as boutique farming for those individuals who wish to spend their money rather than rely on scientific knowledge. For example, the Guardian article contemplates such a situation: When John Chester, a filmmaker from California, quit his job to become a farmer, he did not do it out of a desire to “feed the world.” Instead, he would say: “I am trying to feed my neighbors – and if everyone did that, we would be able to replicate this.”

Nonetheless, not everybody can take such ambitious farming endeavors. We are already utilizing about half the Land on Earth for farming, and there is no additional landing to do so. Similarly, it is also not viable that people want to return to a time when 30% of the workforce was involved in farming. Even organic agriculture, which allows for more off-farm inputs, like manure, cannot feed the world. Moreover, organic farming uses 20-40% more Land than traditional farming systems, and there is not enough manure to go around.

This situation also challenges the fundamental logical problem with biodynamic farming. The farm is designed in the form of a closed system. That is fine if all you wish to do is subsistence farming, but the system cannot be closed if you want to produce food for other people to eat. Suppose we want to take many nutrients away from the farm (that is the whole point), which implies that those nutrients have to be put back from somewhere off the farm. In reality, the biodynamic farming standard allows 50% of nitrogen inputs to come from off-farm. They are compelled to do so. If it is true, then why should people partially adhere to a principle that makes little or no sense, so you have to deviate from it just to survive?

We must consider the Earth as an entire system. It is not a closed system because we have continuous input coming from the sun. Therefore, we must consider multiple factors to incorporate a farming system. These factors include the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle, water use, and food production and distribution as a worldwide system. These small farms pretending to be detached from the world are just feeding those people who can afford a premium for food that has no health or environmental advantage but which scratches an indulgent philosophical itch.

Furthermore, they buy the gratuitous layer of pseudoscience on top, sometimes because they just want to feel special, but sometimes also because they are guilted into pondering that they necessitate providing the best food for their family. One can still care about the latter group – people who cannot afford the premium but have been convinced that their family’s health will benefit by purchasing organic or biodynamic produce.

Generally, we cannot afford the gratuitous layer of pseudoscience, primarily for marketing or exploitation. This is particularly true in the case of food production. However, it is also true in fields like medicine, where the economic strain is increasing gradually. Billions of dollars are wasted on worthless services or products, and even more, money is spent on dealing with the consequences of relying on worthless pseudoscience.

There is often real direct harm, but often the downside of pseudoscience is just wasted resources and reduced efficiency. To a significant degree, our collective quality of life is determined by the optimal utilization of our resources. Therefore, pseudoscientific practices like biodynamic farming are cancer on civilization, sapping our resources and opportunities, slowing our advance, and lowering our quality of life.

Perception of the Planet Calendar

The biodynamic approach assumes that there are lunar and astrological influences on soil and plant development. For example, they include choosing to plant, cultivate or harvest various crops based on the phases and zodiacal constellation of the moon. They also rely upon whether the crop is the plant’s root, leaf, flower, or fruit.[1] [2] This aspect of biodynamics has been termed “astrological” and “pseudoscientific.[3]  [4] [5]

Researchers’ views on Biodynamic Farming

In a 2002 newspaper editorial, Peter Treue, a renowned agricultural researcher at the University of Kiel, characterized biodynamics as pseudoscience and argued that similar or equal results could be obtained using standard organic farming principles. He argued that some biodynamic preparations resemble alchemy or magic akin to geomancy.[1]

In an analytical research paper published in 1994, Holger Kirchmann, a soil researcher working at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, concluded that Steiner’s instructions were occult and dogmatic. These practices could not contribute to the development of alternative or sustainable agriculture. According to Kirchmann, many of Steiner’s statements are not verifiable, as his assertations are not based on any scientific hypothesis. Furthermore, Kirchmann concluded that when biodynamic agriculture methods were tested scientifically, the results were unconvincing.[2]

In another study on the overview of biodynamic agriculture published in 2004, Linda Chalker-Scott, a researcher at Washington State University, characterized biodynamics as pseudoscience. She concluded that Steiner did not use scientific methods to formulate his theory of biodynamics and that the later addition of good organic farming techniques has “muddled the discussion” of Steiner’s original idea. Based on the scant scientific testing of biodynamics, Chalker-Scott evaluated that “no evidence exists” that homeopathic preparations improve the soil.[3]

In Michael Shermer‘s The Skeptic Encyclopedia of PseudoscienceDan Dugan states that the way biodynamic preparations are supposed to be implemented is based solely on Steiner’s “own insight.”

Skeptic Brian Dunning writes about biodynamic farming in the following words, “the best way to think of ‘biodynamic agriculture’ would be as a magic spell cast over an entire farm. Biodynamics sees an entire farm as a single organism, with something they call a life force.”[4]

However, some researchers have endorsed the methods of biodynamic farming. For instance, Florian Leiber, Nikolai Fuchs, and Hartmut Spieß, researchers at the Goetheanum, have defended the principles of biodynamics and suggested that critiques of biodynamic agriculture denying the scientific credibility are “not in keeping with the facts…as they take no notice of large areas of biodynamic management and research“. Moreover, they stated that biodynamic farmers are “charged with developing a continuous dialogue between biodynamic science, and the natural sciences sense strictly,” despite essential differences in paradigms, world views, and value systems.[5]

Philosopher of science, Michael Ruse, has written that followers of biodynamic agriculture rather enjoy the scientific marginalization that comes from its pseudoscientific basis. They

revel both in its esoteric aspects and the impression that they were in the vanguard of the wider anti-science sentiment that has grown in disapproval of modern methods such as genetic modification.[1]

Steiner’s theory was similar to some of the theories of the agricultural scientist Richard Krzymowski, who had been teaching in Breslau since 1922.[2] The environmental scientist Frank M. Rauch mentioned in 1995 the reprint of a book from Raoul Heinrich Francé, which might be another source probably used by Steiner.[3]

According to a scientific paper by Holger Kirchmann in 2021, the auras and forces mentioned by Steiner are unfamiliar to the scientific method. For instance, his statement (hypothesis) of “living forces” affecting crops cannot be tested and is thus not falsifiable. Therefore, by definition, when a hypothesis is not falsifiable, it is a vivid sign of pseudoscience. [4]

In 2021, a research team from the Botanical Garden and Department of Experimental and Social Sciences Education of the Faculty of Teacher Training of the University of Valencia warned about the risk of pseudoscience concerning myths or beliefs about the moon’s influence on agriculture. The findings of this scientific review of over 100 papers (including scientific articles, papers, and higher education textbooks) have been published in the journal Agronomy.[5] In this research, they found no reliable, science-based evidence for any relationship between lunar phases and plant physiology in any plant–science-related textbooks or peer-reviewed journal articles justifying agricultural practices conditioned by the moon. Similarly, no evidence from the field of physics supported a causal relationship between lunar forces and plant responses.

Therefore, based on all this scientific research, the famous agricultural practices in biodynamic farming associated with lunar phases have no scientific backing.[6]

Also read:

On this Day

1924: The famous German philosopher, Steiner, presented his theory about biodynamic farming. The theory became a basis for such farming in various countries. However, there is no scientific basis for the theory.

2021: Holger Kirchmann published a paper in 2021 which falsified Steiner’s assertions about the impact of living forces on crops. He concluded that Steiner’s theory is not falsifiable and is pseudoscience.

Want to read more? Try these books!


[1] ^ Jump up to:a b Ruse M (2013). Pigliucci M, Boudry M (eds.). Chapter 12: Evolution – From Pseudoscience to Popular Science, from Popular Science to Professional Science. Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem. University of Chicago Press. p. 227. ISBN 978-0-226-05182-6.

[2] ^ Helmut Zander (2011). Rudolf Steiner. Die Biographie. Piper, Munich. p. 458. ISBN 978-3-492-05448-5.

[3] ^ Frank M. Rauch (1995). “Lebendige Erde”. Zur Neuauflage: Francé Das Leben im Boden und Das Edaphon, Report about the new edition. Edition Siebeneicher.

[4] ^ Kirchmann, Holger (2021). “Revisiting the original reasons for excluding inorganic fertilizers in organic farming—Why the ban is not consistent with our current scientific understanding”. Outlook on Agriculture. 50 (2): 107–115. doi:10.1177/00307270211020025S2CID 236203111.

[5] ^ “New study contradicts pseudoscientific beliefs about the influence of the moon on agriculture”. 19 February 2021.

[6] ^ Mayoral, Olga (2020). “What Has Been Thought and Taught on the Lunar Influence on Plants in Agriculture? Perspective from Physics and Biology”. Agronomy. 10 (7): 955. doi:10.3390/agronomy10070955.

[2] Kirchmann, Holger (1994). “Biological dynamic farming – an occult form of alternative agriculture?”. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics. 7 (2): 173–87. doi:10.1007/BF02349036S2CID 153540221.

[3] ^ Chalker-Scott, Linda (2004). “The Myth of Biodynamic Agriculture” (PDF). Master Gardener Magazine. Archived (PDF) from the original on 29 August 2017.

[4] ^ Dunning, Brian“Skeptoid #26: Biodynamic Agriculture”Skeptoid. Retrieved 2011-12-12.

[5] ^ Jump up to:a b c d Florian Leiber, Nikolai Fuchs and Hartmut Spieß, “Biodynamic agriculture today”, in Paul Kristiansen, Acram Taji, and John Reganold (2006), Organic Agriculture: A global perspective, Collingwood, AU: CSIRO Publishing

[1] Desai, B K (2007). Sustainable agriculture: a vision for the future. New Delhi: B T Pujari/New India Pub. Agency. pp. 228–29. ISBN 978-81-89422-63-9

[2] ^ Biodynamic Tea (2007), “Beyond Organic Biodynamic Tea” Archived 2009-02-05 at the Wayback Machine.

[3] ^ Diver (1999), “Planetary Influences” Archived 2011-05-26 at the Wayback Machine.

[4] ^ Novella, Steven (19 June 2017). “Biodynamic Farming and Other Nonsense”. NeuroLogica Blog. The New England Skeptical Society. Retrieved 5 December 2018.

[5] ^ Stableford, Brian M. (1 July 2015). Science fact and science fiction : an encyclopedia. Routledge. p. 42. ISBN 978-1138868823. Retrieved 5 December 2018.

Categories: This Day in Wine History | ArticlesTags: By Published On: November 2, 2022Last Updated: March 9, 2023

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