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mardi, 18 décembre 2012

BIODYNAMICS

BIODYNAMICS:  COMMENTS, & COMMENTS ON COMMENTS


 

Claude Gilois

I have received several comments on my article on biodynamics;  one of which is an article in itself and considering its quality I have decided to publish it in full with my own comments hence the slightly clumsy title.

 

It was not signed but it possibly comes from Franc Dubourdieu, an agronomist and oenologist as well as a doctor and today a wine consultant.  He has published various guides on wine tasting and has just released his latest book ‘Du terroir à la guerre du goût’. He has also written a comprehensive article on biodynamics, which can be consulted with the  link: www.franckdubourdieu.com/pdf/237.pdf 

As the article is signed with a pseudonym I decided to use it to identify the commentator in the following text.

 

BAUFAYS: Your article is interesting and raises a few important points but let me clarify a few things!    Firstly, it is true that biodynamics is poorly understood by farmers but then so is organic farming.   However, even if we do not understand all the ins out outs of biodynamics it is the way forward considering its positive impact on the environment.

 

Claude Gilois: There is no doubt that organic and biodynamic farming are a step in the right direction in particular in reducing chemical inputs. However, the major contribution brought by Steiner is his concept of ‘wholeness’ and the equilibrium between the various elements of farming  such as fields, cattle, cultures, trees and so on.   For the rest of his theory, as primarily a scientist, I cannot subscribe to concepts derived from occultism even if I can detect a certain poetic dimension in their formulation

 

BAUFAYS: Your last paragraph is challenging. The use of Rotenone has now been forbidden since October 2011.   This product of weak persistence in the soil was indeed toxic for the users when handled and sprayed but so are all other conventional products from the chemical industry currently being used. Farmers do not necessarily have much choice to treat, as the substitution products are scarce.

 

Claude Gilois: It is true that Rotenone is now forbidden but it will have taken some time as this product is implicated in the development of Parkinson’s disease without any warning signs or heralding symptoms. This proves, once again, that natural products do not necessarily equate with safe products.

 

BAUFAYS: Secondly, there are only about 15 active substances authorised for organic farming while there are more than 700 for conventional farming. The research investments are totally disproportionate.  The organic and biodynamic sectors have to fight to raise money for research,  and research on organic products is less lucrative as it encourages more autonomous decisions within the farm or in the vineyard. The costs of research and registering the product are enormous especially for such as small industry.

 

Thirdly, product evaluation of organic substances is inappropriate and has been   copied from the conventional chemical industry where products have higher toxicity. Organic producers do not demand the same efficacy from their products, as they merely want to regulate the various pressures on the farm or vineyard and certainly not destroy them. 

 

Fourthly, quantities used are not, unlike commonly implied, excessive or intensive, in fact, doses used are, by and large, inferior to those recommended. With copper, for example, the authorised dose is 6 kg/ha/annum but the average quantity used is 4 kg/ha/annum.  The quantities are, in effect, even further reduced as they are used with other natural extracts such as nettle manure or other concoctions.         

 

Claude Gilois: It is fairly clear today that the idea of basing toxicology on the dose-effect (that is the dose that creates the effect) does not hold true anymore,  if it was ever a valid concept. In fact, many chemical substances are endocrine disrupters that are toxic at very low concentration. Very often, it is the shape of the molecule and not the dose that is the toxic component and it can have a highly disrupting effect at very low concentration, especially in the uterus. France is currently banning Bisphenol A and the European Union might follow soon.  It would therefore be unwise to continue to use the ageing toxicological model as a reference.  

 

Regarding copper used in organic and biodynamic farming, it did well not to be removed, like the Rotenone, from the annexe of European directive 94/114. Before 2008, copper was on the list of substances that the European Parliament wanted to remove, a wish shared by other countries.  The use of copper was forbidden in Denmark in 1999. In Germany, the Federal Agency for the Environment considers that the use of copper represents an unacceptable risk for the environment, in particular for birds, small mammals, earthworms and aquatic organisms. The quantities used have certainly been markedly reduced as they were around 20kg/ha/annum a few years ago but it is difficult to understand that spraying an average of 4-5 kg of copper a year will be without any impact on the soil over the years. The central question here is whether it would not be sometimes preferable to use more effective chemical products rather than repeated treatments with copper sulphate especially when weather conditions are adverse as they were, for example, in 2007. That year a number of organic viticulturists had to resort to using products from the chemical industry to save their crops and they either lost the Bio certification, or lost their crops to keep their certification. If we can hazard a comparison, it is fine to treat minor ailments with non-systemic medicines but when it comes to a serious infectious disease or  cancer, I do not think many people would choose homeopathic treatment in preference to more aggressive drugs. Of course, it is more difficult to recover from aggressive treatments but it saves lives…. Can farmers afford the risk to lose a crop? Is it totally fair for those domains to lose the certification for trying to save the crops when everything that the Bio Pharmacopoeia had to offer was ineffective?

 

BAUFAYS: Furthermore, running a vineyard with organic and biodynamic methods allows the fauna and flora to use the local environment for protection and they can re-colonise the soil rapidly. In this way equilibrium is preserved.

 

Finally, the number of interventions in the vineyard is two or three times more frequent. These interventions comprise work on the vines that is more important in organically farmed vineyards, but having said that, the carbon footprints of organic and biodynamic farming are 15 to 20 times less than those of conventional farming and ten times less than in sustained farming. For organic farming, the reasons lie in a better knowledge of the soil and better utilisation of fertilisers and manures applied strictly according to the need.  At this stage, perhaps we should possibly consider the following scenarios: Sustained farming could be the first step towards organic farming which in turn could lead to biodynamics.  In fact, quite a few farmers use the lunar calendar for treatments to maximise their efficiency; our grandparents also used the ascending and descending moon for their gardens. They are principles that have not yet been studied in depth but they are there; so much more to discover or re-discover.

 

Calendrier-lunaire-290x300.jpg

Nice... but... relevant ?

Claude Gilois: The concept of the lunar calendar(s) is poetic but is it really relevant? There has not been a study validating this concept that appears closer to Astrology than Astronomy. At a time when many of the processes governing the universe are known, if such an effect ever existed, would it not have been found out by now? Furthermore, there exist several lunar calendars. For some people it is the ascending and descending moon that is important, for others it is the full moon and the new moon that matter, and there are those who think that it is the astrological signs that have the most importance.   But after all, why not use the lunar calendar as it provides as good a framework as any for work in the vineyards or cellars and it helps to focus on the various tasks to be done. However, trying to erect it as a scientific construction, not yet discovered, is a little disturbing.

 

BAUFAYS: There have to be the means and the political will behind those means and, of course, a break away from the lobbies. The advantage of organic and biodynamic farming is to restore an egalitarian link between nature and man and certainly not try to dominate nature. We have been too pretentious   over the last fifty years!! We can now see the devastating effects of the loss of fertility of soils.   Soil will give us all its potential if we look after it, if it is healthy, full of life, bacteria, and fungus then the vines will be better nourished, have less water stress and they will be stronger and more resistant. There will be fewer parasites, fewer diseases and less soil lost due to erosion. We need to give back life to soil and even though some are sceptical, it is organic and biodynamic farming which will ensure this and it is the only way forward (agro-forestry, use broken branches (Bois Raméal Fragmenté, BRF), natural manure, hedges, ponds, free growing grass, none or minimal ploughing, permaculture), all these will contribute to give and maintain life in the soil.

 

Claude Gilois: Not much to add to the conclusion.   Well formulated   and organic and biodynamic farming have indeed a huge responsibility in shaping the future of agriculture. One must not forget that the vine is a very fragile plant weakened through lack of genetic diversity, further enhanced by the destruction of vineyards by phyloxera. It is probably fair to say that the reduction of chemical input, albeit natural or synthetic,  will probably have to wait for new genetic material to be available either though hybridisation or sooner through maker assisted selection and genomic selection as unacceptability of genetically modified organisms in Europe renders this technology unlikely.

 

 

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