I promised to read and comment on a research paper that compared Organic farming and Biodynamic farming that several of you had mentioned. The paper “Soil and Winegrape Quality in Biodynamically and Organically Managed Vineyards,” was published in The American Journal of Enology and Viticulture, 2005 56:4 pages 367-377. The authors are Jennifer Reeve, L. Carpenter-Boggs, John Reganold, Alan York, Glenn McGourty and Leo McCloskey and for a price of $10 this paper can be downloaded off the internet.
Overall, it appears the study was well intentioned and thorough in its approach, but it seems to me to have been too ambitious in its scope, too complicated. This is clearly the type of study that should be encouraged and while the study falls somewhat short it was a good first effort that others can build on – and that has great value.
Most of you don’t have the study so I’m not going to get too detailed because you can’t follow the data. Here is a snapshot of the “Materials and Methods.”
The test site was the McNab Ranch near Ukiah, CA. 420 acres were planted in 1994 and was certified organic 1994 to 1996 and then Biodynamically certified in 1997. “No conventional treatment was tested included in the study for additional comparison as the experimental site was located on a certified biodynamic farm and the grower would have had to remove hundreds of healthy vines to buffer the biodynamic and organic plants and the rest of the farm from the conventional plots.” Kinda makes me think that conventional ag and leprosy have a lot in common with these folks. Four 1.5 acre replications and randomized test plots each of Biodynamic and organic were selected in 1996. “The two treatments received identical soil and vine management practices throughout the experiment, except that the biodynamic preparations were only applied to the biodynamic plots… Each plot contained about 50 rows (on average 27 vines per row), with vines being trained (bilateral cordon) to a vertical shoot position.” Planted on 5-C rootstock, the Merlot was on a 6’X8’ spacing.
It appears that data were collected in 1997, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003. Measurements of soil and leaf components were taken along with crop and pruning weights and grape chemistry.
Here’s the bottom line from the “Results and Discussion” section:
“No consistent significant differences were found between the biodynamically treated and untreated plots for any of the physical, chemical, or biological parameters tested. … Our results are consistent with the literature in that responses to the use of the biodynamic preparations have been seen in some situations but not others.”
On the surface the report supports my contentions that Biodynamic farming has no efficacy and contradicts the claim that Biodynamics is the “Rolls Royce” of organic farming. Maybe I should crow and claim victory – unfortunately, life isn’t that simple. This is only one study, done in one location and with a relatively young vineyard that had previously been over-cropped at six tons to the acre. The previous over-cropping should have worked in the Biodynamically farmed section’s favor – it didn’t. It would be valuable if this study could be repeated in another location.
I hope that others may find a solution that allows sustainable, organic and Biodynamic farming methods to be tested in replicated test plots in the same vineyard.
Part II next. Stuart Smith