Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Biodynamic Agriculture Works


Certified Biodynamic
In order to become certified biodynamic, a farm must first be certified organic.
In order to become certified biodynamic, a farm must first be certified organic.
iStockphoto.com/Kazmaniac

Today, some forms of biodynamic agriculture are practiced on farms around the world, with most dynamic practices in Europe, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Similar to organic farming, biodynamic farms are certified. To be certified as biodynamic, a farm must first be certified organic.

When a farm is organically certified, it is inspected and evaluated by a third-party certifying agent on how well it meets organic standards. Basically, the farm must practice organic methods for at least three years. This includes objectives like choosing only all-natural (nonsynthetic) fertilizers and pesticides, using sustainable processes such as crop rotation and composting, and feeding livestock 100-percent organic feed, as well as treating animals humanely (no hormones or antibiotics). If the farm meets criteria established by the government's National Organic Program (NOP), it's allowed to use the USDA Certified Organic seal (or call itself an organic producer without using the logo) to identify the organic integrity of its products.

Biodynamic farms do all this, plus some. Since all farms are a unique life form, certification is individual to each farm. Maintaining large-scale composting, prohibiting the use of treated seeds, hormones or synthetic substances and permitting only plant-derived pest controls are examples of biodynamic standards. Biodynamic certification is offered through the Demeter Association and its sister company, Stellar Certification Services, and the process is similar to becoming certified organic: The farmer (or processor or handler) submits an application for biodynamic certification and the farm is inspected and evaluated. Based on the evaluation, a farm may be certified as Demeter Certified Biodynamic, In-conversion to Demeter Biodynamic, Aurora Certified Organic and/or Stellar NOP Organic (for when a farm is on its way toward becoming biodynamic).

In 2008, there were 123 Demeter Certified Biodynamic farms and processors in the United States alone, which is about 10,000 acres (40,468,564 square meters) of biodynamically farmed land [source: Demeter Biodynamic Trade Association]. Certification is renewed annually.

As you may imagine, sustaining an agricultural ecosystem is time-consuming and labor-intensive. Farmers who choose to practice biodynamic agriculture are adopting the lifestyle -- the farmer becomes part of that ecosystem to achieve a successful balance of Earth and life forces. Successful or not, the practice of filling a bovine intestine with chamomile raises eyebrows, as does the reliance on lunar cycles. Whether readily accepted or at odds with scientific agricultural approaches, it's hard to argue against a small carbon footprint and the tasty carrot it produces.