Here are the results of 3 independent, scientific, comparative studies to rethink the situation between conventional, organic and biodynamic farming systems.
The Rodale Institute 30 year trial finds that organic farming outperforms conventional methods.
> Organic yields match conventional yields.
> Organic outperforms conventional in years of drought.
> Organic farming systems build rather than deplete soil organic matter, making it a more sustainable system.
> Organic farming uses 45% less energy and is more efficient.
> Conventional systems produce 40% more greenhouse gases.
> Organic farming systems are more profitable than conventional.
Here is an excerpt of a scientific study published in Nature in November 2018:
"Responses to climatic and pathogen threats differ in biodynamic and conventional vines.
Viticulture is of high socio-economic importance; however, its prevalent practices severely impact the environment and human health, and criticisms from society are raising. Vine managements systems are further challenged by climatic changes. Of the 8 million hectares grown worldwide, conventional and organic practices cover 90% and 9% of acreage respectively. Biodynamic cultivation accounts for 1%.
Studies on biodynamic or/and organic cultivation focused on economy and soil composition, on soil structure, soil biodiversity and microbiological activity, and on fertilizer effects. Studies of grape yield and quality microbial communities in grapes and leaves and wine biochemistry have also been reported. However, the results have not resolved the controversy about the anthroposophical paradigm at the heart of biodynamics practice. To date, the dissenting viticulture communities have not reached a collective plan to reduce the impact of viticulture practices on the environment and human health.
Although economic success combined with low environmental impact is widely claimed by biodynamic winegrowers from California to South Africa and France, this practice is still controversial in viticulture and scientific communities.
To rethink the situation, we encouraged stakeholders to confront conventional and biodynamic paradigms in a Participative-Action-Research. Co-designed questions were followed up by holistic comparison of conventional and biodynamic vineyard managements in 14 plots of Pinot Noir over a 4 year period.
Our trial consisted of 14 plots of Pinot Noir vines grafted onto the SO4 rootstock that had been grown under conventional management (8 winegrowers, 8 plots of 21,413 m2) or biodynamic management (3 winegrowers, 6 plots of 9,756 m2) for more than 20 years in the same climatic conditions. Over a 4-year period, we monitored vine management, plant physiology, and the levels of infection with virus, downy mildew, and powdery mildew. For plant defense responses, we analyzed secondary metabolite content as well as steady-state mRNA levels of 30 immunity and silencing genes.
The amplitude of plant responses to climatic threats was higher in biodynamic than conventional management. The same stood true for seasonal trends and pathogens attacks. This was associated with higher expression of silencing and immunity genes, and higher anti-oxidative and anti-fungal secondary metabolite levels. This suggests that sustainability of biodynamic practices probably relies on fine molecular regulations.
This suggests that sharing expertise, within a scientific frame, may diminish management intensities, and ultimately, lower environmental and human health impacts of viticulture. Such knowledge should contribute to resolving disagreements between stakeholders and help designing the awaited sustainable viticulture at large."
Biodynamic practitioners are often taken for dreamers, relying on the earthly forces and the cycles of the Moon.
Yet, there are 7,000 farmers certified biodynamic by Demeter worldwide, about 1000 farms in France, including 450 wineries. Biodyvin, focusing on biodynamic wine, count about 150 members, mostly in France.
Do Biodynamic practices affect the vineyard and the soil? And more particularly, does the application of preparations of horned cow dung (500P) and horned silica (501) have an agronomic interest and makes it possible to distinguish biodynamic from organic farming?
Here are the results of a technical study conducted by Alexandre Gontard after 10 years to evaluate the impact of biodynamic preparations on a plot of Chardonnay at the Chateau de Lavernette, certified both organic and biodynamic in North Beaujolais since 2007.
The objective is to obtain technical results in order to compare organic and biodynamic mode of cultivation, apart from any partisan interpretation, and to provide practical elements for organic wine growers who are considering to apply biodynamic practices.
In this comparative study, both organic and biodynamic methods are found on the same plot, at the foot of the village of Chaintré, entirely planted in Chardonnay, producing Beaujolais Blanc. These vines were planted in 1988 with plants from the same nursery, the rootstocks are identical as well as the grafts.
There are ten rows cultivated in organic farming and ten rows in biodynamic farming. In order to obtain representative results, 5 repetitions of 10 vines per modality were selected. 50 vines in Organic and 50 vines in Biodynamic, from top to bottom of the plot on the different rows in order to take into account the heterogeneity of the plot.
Different parameters have been observed:
- Quality of the grapes : Maturity control / Berries tasting.
In the days before the harvest, samples were taken for each method, 100 berries per sample (2 per vine). We note a slight advance in maturity on the Biodynamic modality, with more sugar and a lower acidity (Figure 1).
- Yield : To measure the yield between the two methods, several measures have been taken:
Number of cluster per vine and weight of 20 bunches. The count was made vine by vine to count the quantity of bunches on each vine. Then two weighings were carried out by modality with 20 bunches each (2 bunches were taken randomly from each vine).
The Biodynamic modality seems to benefit from better productivity, since there are 64 more clusters for 50 vines, or 1.28 more clusters per vine.
Similarly, there is a difference in weight in addition to 670g and 740g, an average of 35.25g more per cluster.
On the other hand, according to the statistical test (difference of means), the means of clusters per vine are equal.
There is therefore no difference in yield between the two methods (Figure 2).
- Vigor and quality of the branches : Number of branches per vine and weight of pruned wood.
These operations were carried out at the time of pruning. Each measurement was carried out vine by vine, the woods counted as they were cut and their weight measured. Only the woods of the previous year as well as those of the coursons were taken into account.
We can see that the Organic modality has generally higher pruning weights. There is also generally a higher number of branches per vine.
We therefore understand that the organic modality has more vigor than the Biodynamic modality.
Now, if we compare the average weight of a branch (wood weight / number of branches), we can see that there is no difference between the two methods.
We can therefore think that the total vigor of the organic modality is greater, but that the average vigor of the Biodynamic modality is more “balanced”, so that the distribution of the plant is more harmonious, less crowded and therefore has a lower sensitivity to diseases.
These data explain the yield results as well as the maturity of the BD modality. The bunches are more airy, more subject to the sun's rays, concentrate more sugars and breathe more organic acids (Figure 3).
- Soil : Spade test in different places to note the aeration and homogeneity of the topsoil. The samples were taken using a four-tooth spade with a length of 30cm, in two batches (a sample under the row (R) and in the inter-row (IR) at the level of the tractor wheel arches).
No pre-cut was made, the lumps were removed as they came. We notice several things:
At the inter-row level, the soil is much more compacted due to the passage of the tractor wheels. And this on the two modalities.
Under the row, the earth is less compact with the Biodynamic method than Organic, the structure of the aggregates is less coarse, the soil is more lumpy, airy. In BD soil, we find more often the smell of fresh earth at all levels of the ground.
We can therefore think that the soil structure is more porous and lumpy on the BD modality. This would allow the plant to better adapt to its environment, to better drain water to the lower layers and thus increase its water reserve in the soil (Figure 4 and photo).
- Earthworm counting :
This part of the study aims to count the number of earthworms in the soil according to the farming method. Indeed, earthworms are considered the "architects of the soil", they drill galleries up to 4 m, taking with them the mineral elements present in the depths to make them available on the surface for vegetation, thus creating the clay-humic complex. They participate in the aeration of the soil and its drainage. Earthworms are one of the best indicators of bio-activity in a region.
We see a glaring difference between the two modalities. The organic plots obtains an average of 4.5 earthworms per m² when the Biodynamic, on average, accounts for 23.5 earthworms per m², or 522% more.
The Biodynamic modality, having received cow horn dung and cow horn silica, obtained different results from organic methods in terms of:
- advancement in maturity (approximately +0.25% ABV, a drop in acidity of 0.3 g / L of H2SO4 on average).
- the size of the clusters (approximately 25g per cluster, i.e. 5% more).
- berry tasting (85% of tasters find them sweeter).
- storage of carbohydrates (6% more carbohydrate potential).
- soil structure (more porosity therefore better drainage and water retention in the lower layers).
- the biological activity of the soil (522% more earthworms per m² of soil.
We can therefore think that the preparations 500P (cow horn dung) and 501 (silica) bring a better harmony to the vines, since the grapes are better distributed on the branches. They promote the assimilation of elements in the topsoil, increasing its porosity, favored by the presence in greater number of earthworms.
Last but not least, "Biodynamic wines" are usually sold at higher prices.
It is therefore possible to think that a farm converting to biodynamic agronomic methods would see its profitability increase, the life of its vine improve as well as the quality of its soils.
For all aforementioned reasons, we believe that organic and biodynamic farming are better for the environment, better for the farmers and better for the consumers. We can feed the entire planet and build resilient ecosystems at the same time. In order to grow quality crops we need to stop using agrochemicals and start using natural methods that promote biodiversity. There is no future for agriculture if it is not sustainable.
Meanwhile, the global agrochemicals market is expected to reach USD 308.92 billion by 2025. The growing demand for crop protection chemicals, such as fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides, is expected to be the biggest driver of the agrochemicals industry over the forecast period. The demand for agrochemicals is expected to be the highest in Asia Pacific.
Needless to say that such a profitable industry won't go down without a fight (cf the Monsanto Papers). The conventional agriculture system is unlikely to change unless consumers consistently demand for organic products. If conventional products stay on the shelves and organic products are selling well, what do you think the industry will do? They will switch to organic farming asap.
No need to blame others for climate change, environmental pollution and loss of biodiversity. We are responsible for our actions. Every time we spend a dollar to buy a product or service, we choose which system we want to support and contribute to shape the world we are going to live in tomorrow.
So what will you do next? Buy conventional, organic or biodynamic wine? Vote with your wallet!