5 minutes with Joanne Turner

Secretary, Biodynamics New Zealand.

What is biodynamic agriculture?

Biodynamics (biological-dynamics) is a method of organic agriculture that can be applied to any farm, horticultural or viticultural enterprise by following a series of practical steps.

The steps emphasise building soil fertility and are carefully tailored to the particular property. They include:

  • Using biodynamic sprays to stimulate biological activity in the soil and improve retention of nutrients, such as animal wastes
  • Stocking with several different animal species to vary grazing patterns and reduce pasture-borne parasites.
  • Widening the range of pasture species.
  • Planting trees for multiple purposes.
  • Crop rotation designs including the use of green manures to enhance soil fertility and control weeds and plant pests.
  • Recycling organic wastes, where possible, by large scale composting.
  • Changing from chemical pest control to prevention strategies based on good plant and animal nutrition and careful cultivar selection.

Biodynamics is based on the teachings of Austrian-born scientist and philosopher, Rudolf Steiner, who gave a series of lectures to European farmers in the early 1920s that introduced the biodynamic concepts.

Biodynamics is a systems approach to agriculture where the property is viewed as a living whole and each activity affects everything else. Management is based on the grower’s own careful observations plus the results of tests and analysis. In this way, modern technology and traditional knowledge form a highly effective method that’s unique to each location.

Why did you join the Bio Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association (Biodynamics New Zealand) and what does your role entail?

My husband and I purchased a property in Kairanga, a farming district close to Palmerston North, in the late 1990s. We wanted to farm the property organically and to be certified. At that time, there were only two certification bodies – Demeter and BioGro. The Demeter model seemed to fit with our philosophy so we started towards certification for our berry operation.

As a Demeter licensee, we are also members of Biodynamics New Zealand, which is an incorporated society and charity. Last year the previous Secretary retired after 27 years and I was offered the opportunity to take on the role on a part-time basis. This still allows me to manage our horticultural business.

Part of the role of Secretary is responsibility for making sure all legal compliance is attended to. Among other things my duties include providing support to the Biodynamics New Zealand Council, overseeing the preparation of annual accounts, maintaining the website, sending newsletters to members, liaising with the editor of our members’ magazine Harvests and liaising with the organisers of our annual conference. The role also includes the position of Demeter Certification Manager.

What are the Association’s overall goals?

The objectives of Biodynamics New Zealand are to foster, guide and safeguard the biodynamic approach to agriculture and horticulture.

We do that by holding an annual conference in different parts of New Zealand featuring local and international keynote speakers, along with workshops designed for further understanding of biodynamics at all levels. There are also regional groups that hold local workshops and field trips.

Biodynamics New Zealand produces a yearly biodynamic calendar, the magazine Harvests for its members three times a year, along with newsletters on a more regular basis keeping the members up-todate with happenings around the country. Information booklets on a range of biodynamic practices are sent to new members.

Has the Association found membership has been growing in recent times?

Biodynamic methods in New Zealand were first used in 1928 at Havelock North and the Bio Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association was founded in 1939. Over that time the membership has risen and fallen as events have put organics and biodynamics into the public eye, for example, membership increased during the Royal Commission on genetic engineering. Currently there is growing interest within the wine producing community.

Membership is open to anyone interested in growing and/or farming biodynamically and our members include farmers, viticulturists, processors, orchardists and commercial and home gardeners. Our membership numbers are steady but we are finding an increasing number of followers on Facebook and Instagram. This is probably an indication of where society is moving to.

Why do you think the biodynamic concept is so important to the current agricultural climate in New Zealand?

Biodynamics uses very limited external inputs and re-uses most on-farm waste, so it has a low impact on the environment. It also provides an economical way of farming because most of the costs are met at the time they are incurred. One of the most easily-seen and dramatic benefits of biodynamic practice is the exceptional quality of the produce – flavour, appearance and keeping quality are all enhanced. Many of our members can relate stories about the marvellous feedback they receive from consumers and buyers.

Biodynamics is compatible with many aspects of modern farming practices and is a way of blending the best of the old with the new. It is a holistic approach that promotes soil health and regenerative ways of farming. It offers an alternative perspective of the farm that allows farmers to tailor practices to their specific property.

In an age where we are experiencing climate change because of many issues, biodynamic and organic farming can be a real tool to assist with lowering the amount of carbon in the atmosphere through carbon sequestration. By utilising practices that increase the organic matter of the soil through restoration of degraded soils and adoption of soil conservation practices, biodynamics can play a leading role in moving the primary sector to using more sustainable farming methods.