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Bio-dynamic vs. Organic Farming – What’s the difference?

biodynamic dairy farm . cows in green pasture Adelaide Hills

What is the difference between bio-dynamic and organic farming?

Organic farming has many of the values we love about holistic dairy farming, but bio-dynamic takes them a little further. Organic farming aims to produce food of high nutritional quality and flavour while avoiding the use of artificial fertilisers or synthetic chemicals, with some limited use of naturally-occurring pesticides and fertilisers.

Bio-dynamic farming takes these strict standards to the next level. Any inputs from outside the farm are strictly minimised, and Paris Creek Farms’ farmers focus on building a self-sufficient farm to grow feed for their animals and produce fertilisers through natural composting methods.

Striding forward beyond organic methods, bio-dynamic is a holistic practice, where all aspects of the farm are considered as tightly interrelated, living systems. This philosophy extends to animals, soils, plants, and the solar system. The goal of bio-dynamic farming is to produce highly nutritious, quality food – creating healthier (and delicious) food options for people, while also creating a healthier farm ecosystem. Healthy plants and healthy animals create healthier soils which replenish the earth by building fertility from within.

We say that bio-dynamic certification takes organic further as by the Australian National Standard for Organic and Bio-Dynamic Produce, to achieve a bio-dynamic certification means at a minimum you also have met the Australian Certified Organic Requirements as well.

View the ACO Standard

Bio-dynamic or Organic Farming: Which Came First?

While both bio-dynamic and organic farming look back to values of humankind’s agricultural pioneers, and those which followed them until after the Industrial Revolution, the emergence of ‘intentional’ organic and bio-dynamic are quite recent.

Of course, many traditional and cultural farming methods have existed throughout history which utilise similar values to organic farming, but we are talking about organic and bio-dynamic farming as a response to the harm caused by unnatural fertilisers, pesticides, and other nasty chemicals.

Bio-dynamic farming was developed in 1924, making it the first modern form of intentional organic farming. After bio-dynamic farming had already celebrated its 16th birthday, the first use of the term ‘organic farming’ was by Lord Northbourne, in his book Look to the Land, published in 1940, and inspired by his own interest in bio-dynamic farming methods.

Bio-dynamic farming was originally developed by Austrian philosopher Dr Rudolf Steiner, who was also responsible for developing the Waldorf Education system. Dr Steiner was asked to present a series of lectures to a group of German farmers, who had experienced problems with deterioration of plant and animal health on their farms. These lectures, now consolidated as the Agriculture Course, marked the birth of the bio-dynamic movement and still form the foundation of the modern bio-dynamic agricultural method.

Paris Creek Farms was established as a bio-dynamic dairy farm in the Adelaide Hills over 30 years ago. Our founders Helmut and Ulli Spranz learned the principles and practices of bio-dynamic farming while working as farm hands in the Swiss Alps. In 1988, we were one of the very first bio-dynamic farms in Australia. With more and more bio-dynamic farms popping up now, we are very excited to see the future of bio-dynamic farming in Australia, and we’re thrilled to have been one of the early pioneers.

Animal Care Standards

Industrial farming methods which cause unnecessary suffering to animals are completely against the core values which comprise both bio-dynamic and organic agriculture.

Organic and bio-dynamic farmers care for their animals in a way which supports the ‘full expression of their nature’. This means that animals are given feed which is appropriate for their digestive and immune systems, which is all grown naturally, often on the farm itself. All animals have access to plenty of space to roam around freely, with Paris Creek Farms’ cows grazing peacefully around the beautiful and pristine Adelaide Hills.

Caring for animals under organic or bio-dynamic farming is much the same, though when it comes to keeping cattle – bio-dynamic goes one step further. Dehorning cattle, a common practice with naturally horned breeds, is discouraged in bio-dynamic farming. While some organic farmers may choose to keep their cow’s horns, it is not part of the Australian organic certification.

So, why does bio-dynamic farming require cows to retain their horns?

Much like humans, our cows are social animals, and their horns play a large part in social interactions and even social hierarchy! But they’re not just for show. At Paris Creek Farms, we know that cow horns are directly connected with the frontal sinuses in the skull and as a result play a natural part in thermo-regulation, helping our cows to stay cool out in the South Australian sun.

Feeding the Animals

Here comes one of the major differences between organic and bio-dynamic farming.

As a rule, both bio-dynamic and organic farmers will only feed their animals certified bio-dynamic/organic feed, respectively. However, in organic farming, any amount of organic feed may come from outside of the farm.

When it comes to bio-dynamics, as outlined in the ACO standard, feed produced on the farm must form the basis of animal nutrition. The eventual aim is complete self-sufficiency. This means there is a much larger requirement for bio-dynamic dairy farmers to grow crops to feed the herd – and practicing crop rotation is a must.

paris creek farms cows eating biodynamic crops grown on farm in the Adelaide Hills
Our cows enjoy fresh feed grown directly from the farm

Bio-dynamic farmers select their feed crops based on nutritional quality for the animals, but also to promote biodiversity in the surrounding area, with a focus on plants which attract bees and other pollinators.

Organic Fertilisers vs. Bio-dynamic ‘Preparations’

When it comes to fertilisers, organic and bio-dynamic farmers both agree that synthetic fertilisers are unnatural and unnecessary. But as farmers, we’re all practical. We have to do something to help our crops grow, but the approach of organic and bio-dynamic farming is a bit different. Under both practices, only approved natural inputs are allowed, as per the organic certification. However, organic farmers are privy to several naturally-made fertilisers which they may import onto the farm to speed up the growth process.

Bio-dynamic farmers are limited to the use of bio-dynamic preparations, made on the farm with a mixture of manure, herbs, minerals, and astrology. In fact, the preparations MUST be used for a farm to meet the bio-dynamic certification. That’s how important they are.

Outlined in Steiner’s Agriculture Course, the bio-dynamic preparations are a series of natural mixtures and compounds which are used on the farm to promote soil health and enhance fertility in the farm as a whole.

Australian Organic & Bio-dynamic Certification

Australia’s primary standard for organic and bio-dynamic produce is the Australian National Standard for Organic and Bio-Dynamic Produce. To meet this standard, organic producers must be certified under the Australian Certified Organic (ACO) requirements. And that’s just to get organic certification!

After gaining the Australian Certified Organic certification, bio-dynamic farmers have to jump through a few more hoops and meet another list of requirements to get certified as bio-dynamic.

That’s why we say that bio-dynamic farming uses everything that is great about organic, and takes it just a bit further.

If you’re well-versed in Australian Organic certifications, you might be aware of a few more seals, ticks, and requirements out there. There are several other governing bodies with their own organic and bio-dynamic certifications, including: NASAA Certified Organic, Organic Food Chain, AUS-QUAL, and Demeter’s Bio-Dynamic Research Institute.

Paris Creek Farms chooses the ACO as it is Australia’s leading body in the organic industry, with the standards laid out in the Australian Standard setting the bar for all other governing bodies. We strive to create the best environment for our cows and to create the best dairy products – so we hold ourselves to the highest standards.

Giving Back to the Environment

As farmers, with organic and bio-dynamic methods, part of our goal is to make something great from the land. Paris Creek Farms takes the delicious milk produced by our cows on bio-dynamic pasture, and creates the dairy products you know and love.

But how do we give back to the land?

Well, both organic and bio-dynamic farmers are required to set aside at least 5% of their total farm to dedicated areas of biodiversity. This means allowing native plants and trees to prosper, which means more variety of flora for our friends the bees and other pollinators. In return, they help us to grow our crops!

bee pollinating a flower; biodiversity area on biodynamic farm
Biodiversity makes food for the bees and they help make food for us

Bio-dynamic farming takes it a step further with the incorporation of soil management and bio-dynamic preparations in the farm as a whole – including areas of biodiversity. The approach used by our farmers is to consider the farm from a holistic perspective, improving the health of the soil to improve the health of the plants, so on and so forth. To be certified as bio-dynamic, farmers must evidence the use of principles from Steiner’s Agriculture Course, including managing biodiverse areas with the same care as pastured farmland.

Bio-dynamic farms include areas of biodiversity, such as bushland, natural waterways, and native plants

Central to our philosophy of building up the land and using natural resources at our disposal, both organic and bio-dynamic farming must conserve any non-renewable resources. Bio-dynamic accomplishes this goal by reusing resources created on the farm for many different applications, including the processing of cow manure into the fertilising bio-dynamic preparation 500.

At Paris Creek Farms, we also take our commitment to renewable energy very seriously. In 2014, we thoroughly upgraded all of our processing facilities to become one of the most energy-friendly dairy producers in Australia. We installed solar power, solar hot water, and an upgraded processing system which uses much less water.

Ultimately, our approach is that all stakeholders are important and we need to ensure that everybody gets their fair share to move sustainably into the future.

Who’s the Winner?

Organic and bio-dynamic farming have many similarities. In fact, there are probably more similarities than there are differences. But we think those differences are so important that we choose to farm bio-dynamically.

Bio-dynamic farming goes that bit further than organic, centralised on that view of the farm as one holistic entity, considering the soils, plants, animals, and solar system as one interconnected being. The use of bio-dynamic preparations is our preferred method of encouraging growth on the farm while slowly increasing the farm’s overall fertility for years to come.

We think the results of bio-dynamic couldn’t be clearer in our green pastures, happy cows, and flourishing ecosystems.

Not to mention the most important result of all: delicious, sustainable dairy products with a distinct character we can only achieve through bio-dynamic methods. Don’t believe us? Try some for yourself!

Use our retailer locator tool to find some of our bio-dynamic dairy goodies near you.

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