Biodynamic Farming: Somewhere Between Science and Faith

Olive groves at the award-winning farm Marina Palusci are managed in accordance with biodynamics, a much-debated but often successful method.

Young olive trees inundated with an abudant flora at Marina Palusci farm's Oliveto Pependone
Jul. 9, 2018
By Ylenia Granitto
Young olive trees inundated with an abudant flora at Marina Palusci farm's Oliveto Pependone

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From dia­monds, noth­ing is born. From manure, flow­ers are born.”

At some point dur­ing our meet­ing, it felt nec­es­sary to use the words of a great Italian song­writer and poet to describe how good fruit can grow from a most nat­ural approach.

Biodynamic agri­cul­ture goes beyond wide­spread meth­ods as it bans the use of treat­ments involv­ing syn­thetic chem­i­cals and pays close atten­tion to other issues such as the ori­gin of fer­til­iz­ers.- Massimiliano D’addario, Marina Palusci

Such is the atti­tude of Massimiliano D’Addario, who earned three Gold Awards in a row at the NYIOOC with the mono­va­ri­etal Dritta L’Uomo di Ferro and a 2018 Gold with the blend Oliomania at this year’s World Olive Oil Competition. In addi­tion to being unfil­tered, another dis­tin­guish­ing fea­ture of these prod­ucts made at Marina Palusci farm in Abruzzo is they were made using bio­dy­namic farm­ing prac­tices.

The num­ber of farms that have imple­mented this holis­tic, eco­log­i­cal and eth­i­cal approach to agri­cul­ture, gar­den­ing, food and nutri­tion,” as defined by the Biodynamic Association, has increased con­sid­er­ably in recent years. In Italy, bio­dy­namic farms have dou­bled to about 4,500 over the last decade in response to a grow­ing inter­est from both national and inter­na­tional con­sumers.


Farmers may apply for cer­ti­fi­ca­tions through pri­vate asso­ci­a­tions, of which the best known is Demeter. Nonetheless, the insti­tu­tional bod­ies noted the growth of this trend and the Italian Ministry of Agriculture devoted a chap­ter to bio­dy­namic farm­ing in the last National Strategic Plan for the devel­op­ment of organic farm­ing.

In broad terms, we can say that the bio­dy­namic method is based on a chem­i­cal-free agri­cul­tural approach with addi­tional require­ments. Organic com­pa­nies like the Gold Award-win­ning Villa Pontina say they eas­ily’ con­verted to this agri­cul­tural tech­nique, which is based on the spir­i­tual and anthro­po­soph­i­cal vision of the world devel­oped by Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner at the begin­ning of the last cen­tury.

The Oliveto Pependone olive grove and manure at Marina Palusci farm

An approach of this kind is what Massimiliano D’Addario per­formed at his Oliveto Pependone and in the adja­cent vine­yard where he pro­duces nat­ural wines. At Marina Palusci farm, in the province of Pescara, he man­ages 40 hectares (about 99 acres) of native vari­eties such as Dritta and Intosso, flanked by Leccio del Corno, Maurino, Frantoio and Leccino. Seven more hectares (about 7 acres) of Intosso were planted three years ago and will soon enter the pro­duc­tion phase.

As we know, there are dif­fer­ent meth­ods of cul­ti­va­tion,” D’Addario said, refer­ring to con­ven­tional, inte­grated and organic farm­ing. With regard to the envi­ron­men­tal impact, bio­dy­namic agri­cul­ture goes beyond these wide­spread meth­ods as it bans the use of treat­ments involv­ing syn­thetic chem­i­cals and pays close atten­tion to other issues such as the ori­gin of fer­til­iz­ers,” the pro­duc­ers said, clar­i­fy­ing that for exam­ple, he would never use an organic-cer­ti­fied com­post which comes from an urban area because it could con­tain mol­e­cules of dis­al­lowed sub­stances such as heavy met­als.

The bio­dy­namic pro­ducer basi­cally refers to what our grand­par­ents used to do when chem­istry was not used in agri­cul­ture,” he observed. They fol­lowed the phases of the moon and the sea­sons, rely­ing on their power of obser­va­tion of the plants and of the cos­mic ele­ments,” D’Addario explained, spec­i­fy­ing that in this vision the con­cept of soil vital­ity is fun­da­men­tal. Uncontaminated plants can grow free and lush.

If a child has always been at home, on his first day of school with the other kids he is very likely to get sick because he is not used to liv­ing in that con­di­tions and could develop no anti­bod­ies,” he said metaphor­i­cally. While a child who is free to play in the street, even in the rain, prob­a­bly rarely will get sick in the same con­text.” Likewise, with this approach plants are nat­u­rally strength­ened, as they absorb every­thing they need from the soil.

Soil fer­til­ity and vital­ity can, and for me must be pro­moted with absolutely nat­ural means like the com­post from horn manure, shred­ding of prun­ing residues, and so on,” he pointed out. Moreover, among the var­i­ous prac­tices, it is cru­cial to fol­low the sun and lunar rhythms to carry out some oper­a­tions. I waited for the right time to plant the youngest olive trees and get bet­ter results,” the pro­ducer observed, while we walked among beau­ti­ful and vig­or­ous plants of Dritta.

However, we can say that the most dis­tinc­tive and often con­tro­ver­sial bio­dy­namic prac­tices are the com­post and spray prepa­ra­tions which are based on veg­etable mate­ri­als includ­ing yarrow, chamomile, sting­ing net­tle, oak bark, dan­de­lion and valer­ian; min­er­als such as sil­ica and organic mat­ters, namely cow dung.

D’Addario explained that accord­ing to the bio­dy­namic vision, humans and ani­mals stand between heaven and earth, and there­fore humans can act as a link between these two worlds. The earth is immersed in the plan­e­tary spheres of the solar sys­tem and the plan­e­tary forces affect our planet and the mor­phol­ogy of plants.

The plan­ets also, directly and indi­rectly, influ­ence the flow of water on earth, while ele­ments such as humus are fun­da­men­tal for the fer­til­ity of soil. Then we can con­vey the cos­mic bond to the earth through the for­mu­la­tion and use of prepa­ra­tions.

The best known of these is prob­a­bly the Horn Manure, or Preparation 500, which should be made on a par­tic­u­lar night of the year. Cow horns are filled with manure (from ani­mals that are not chem­i­cally fed and treated). After a period of mat­u­ra­tion under­ground, a few grams of this com­post must be dis­solved in water and stirred based on the prin­ci­ples of dynamiza­tion; then you can spray the prepa­ra­tion on the soil.

As our farm­ers observed, despite the effec­tive­ness of this method, only a few of these prac­tices, like the use of cer­tain sub­stances as fer­til­iz­ers and crop rota­tion, are sup­ported by research.” For the most part, bio­dy­namic appli­ca­tions have not yet been cor­rob­o­rated by sci­en­tific evi­dence and, for this rea­son, con­ven­tional pro­duc­ers often crit­i­cize the approach for lack­ing objec­tive foun­da­tions.

We spoke with Alessandro Piccolo, a pro­fes­sor of agri­cul­tural chem­istry at the Department of Soil, Plant, Environment and Animal Production at the University of Naples Federico II, who con­ducted stud­ies on bio­dy­namic prac­tices includ­ing an exam­i­na­tion of the prop­er­ties of Preparation 500.

Young olive trees inundated with an abundant flora at Marina Palusci farm’s Oliveto Pependone

We con­ducted a study which pro­vided, for the first time, a sci­en­tific char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of this essen­tial prod­uct in bio­dy­namic agri­cul­ture,” said Piccolo. Our results show that bio­dy­namic prod­ucts appear to be enriched with bio­la­bile com­po­nents and, there­fore, poten­tially con­ducive for plant growth stim­u­la­tion.”

He explained that the anaer­o­bic con­di­tions in which the manure is com­posted, after hav­ing been put in the horn and sealed, favor a lim­ited degra­da­tion and trans­for­ma­tion of lignin com­pared to aer­o­bic com­posts, which have an exu­ber­ance of bac­te­r­ial and fun­gal trans­for­ma­tion. In sub­stance, the con­tent of lignin in the Preparation 500 com­post is larger than that nor­mally found in aer­o­bic com­posts.

This means that the polyphe­no­lic com­po­nent of Preparation 500 is on aver­age higher than that of a con­ven­tional com­post,” Piccolo pointed out, spec­i­fy­ing that polyphe­no­lic com­pounds power plant bios­tim­u­la­tion. On this basis, by sup­ply­ing com­post from Preparation 500 to plants, greater bios­tim­u­la­tion should be achieved, which there­fore means a greater effect of the com­post on both the micro­bial microflora of the rhi­zos­phere and the root sys­tem, thus a greater stim­u­la­tion of the plant phys­i­ol­ogy and bio­chem­istry. Then, in gen­eral, this greater stim­u­la­tion due to the polyphe­nols of the Preparation 500, which has been sub­jected to less aer­o­bio­sis, favors both the micro­bial exu­ber­ance of the rhi­zos­phere and the increase in plant growth,” he noted.

Biodynamics will go for­ward only if we sup­port objec­tively sci­en­tific research on these prod­ucts,” the researcher added. That is why his sug­ges­tion to bio­dy­namic pro­duc­ers is to seek con­tact with sci­en­tific insti­tu­tions to bet­ter under­stand the mol­e­c­u­lar com­po­si­tion of prod­ucts and their action on plants. Otherwise, bio­dy­nam­ics will remain a trend and its ben­e­fits are likely to be lost, while there is still much to be dis­cov­ered,” Piccolo con­cluded.

Our bio­dy­namic pro­ducer thinks so too, as over the years he has seen the ben­e­fits from this approach on his farm.

Among three-year-old plants of Intosso, he sowed var­i­ous other types of crops accord­ing to the prac­tice of crop rota­tion. As you can see, the olive trees are thriv­ing and healthy,” D’Addario observed, show­ing me young and lush olive trees under whose shade a flour­ish­ing meadow of field beans, mus­tard and oats grows. I planted legumes, grasses and cru­cif­er­ous plants because they enriche the soil with dif­fer­ent sub­stances which are use­ful for the olive trees,” he explained. We put life back at the cen­ter.”


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