Conversion to Organics, Biodynamics
Land being converted from conventional farming must undergo a conversion period before crops from it can be described as organic or Biodynamic. This organic conversion period is two years for annual crops like carrots, peas or potatoes and three years for perennial crops like vines, olives or apples. To be officially biodynamic another two years is required, or, if the vineyard is converting directly from conventional to biodynamics these two years may be allowed to run concurrently with the three-year organic conversion period.
Timothy Brink, who has worked for the Biodynamic Association UK, says ‘normal conversion to biodynamics under the Demeter standards is three years for a farm that has been farmed non-organically. A one year Demeter conversion period is possible for an organic farm that has been certified for at least three years, and if Biodynamic preparations have been used correctly and comprehensively,’ (Timothy Brink, 2018, p.28).
Brink says the range of scenarios for converting include a non-organic farmer converting to Biodynamics, an organic farmer doing the same, an established Biodynamic farmer moving to a new, non-Biodynamic farm, or an apprentice starting up a new farm. Brink says one of the reasons for having a conversion period between non-organic or non-Biodynamic status to full organic or full Biodynamic status is to allow the land to cleanse itself from residues of products which not permitted under organic or Biodynamic rules. This is a period of adjustment not just for the land, and but also for farmers, who must adjust their way of thinking, specifically in the case of Biodynamics where the farm is (or should become as far as possible) a self-sufficient, self-sustaining living organism. This Farm Organism Principle is, says Brink, ‘the obsolute core of Biodynamic farming’.
Nicolas Joly, Biodynamic winegrower (Château de la Roche aux Moines) in France’s Loire valley, says growers who have converted to Biodynamic methods will tell you that noticeable changes occur as early as year one (if no herbicides had been used) or as late as year three if serious damage had been done by the previous conventional farming regime.
Dr Andrew Lorand | The late Swiss-American Biodynamic consultant Dr Andrew Lorand expressed a similar view to Joly. ‘The third year of biodynamics is the toughest,’ he told me. ‘During the first year the vines and soil go along together just fine, as there is a residual from previous years and the vines are not really sure what is happening. The second sees real progress, often without much downside. The third year is when we have the greatest risk of fungal attack and the greatest drop in production as the vines are now really needing to feed from the soil, but can be still weak from years of chemical dependency. In year three the benefit of humification [eg via applications of Biodynamic Compost 502-507, cover crops, Horn manure 500] should start to be apparent from vigorous care – as the vines will have to go after slow-release soil nutrients, not quick-fix residues from chemical fertilizers.”
Most Biodynamic wine growers I have spoken to say it generally takes seven years of Biodynamics to re-set a previously conventional vineyard and return it to its full potential.
Timothy Brink, ‘Convert your farm to Biodynamics’, Star and Furrow (Journal of the Biodynamic Association UK), No. 120 December 2013, p.25-28.