Agriculture Conference 2017

from 1st to 4th February 2017 at the Goetheanum, Dornach.

Theme for the year 2016/17

Creating a Fertile Soil – from Nature to Culture

For thousands of years fertile soil has been the key factor underpinning cultural development.  Creating, maintaining and enhancing this soil fertility is one of the most noble of agricultural objectives.  It is  our civilisation however that is overseeing the loss of agricultural soil each year on a gigantic scale through desertification, runoff and urbanisation.  The issue of soil fertility is therefore of major social and global significance.

Soil

The soil from an agricultural point of view, is the meeting point between the realm of light above and the darkness of earth below.  These two spheres interpenetrate one another and upon the earth's mineral foundation a unique zone of life comes into being.  Much can be discovered through natural and spiritual science about this complex interweaving of cosmic and earthly forces.  The practical farmer also knows however that the actual processes going on in the soil are specific to each individual place and moment in time.  Close attention needs to be paid to the soil so that when conditions are right, cultivation can proceed with confidence.

Viewed from society the question engaging most interest today is, which type of soil cultivation saves most energy in a relative and absolute sense?  What conditions enable the soil to sequester carbon?  For the farmer it is about soil tilth and creating a soil structure that lasts.  Having permeable soil is increasingly important in the face of today's extreme weather. How can this be achieved where I live?  From a socio-economic point of view the issue of land rights is becoming more acute than ever – what are the consequences of land grabbing?  How can we free  land from speculation?  How can farm succession be made workable outside a family context? How can land be held in common?  Possible answers to these questions can be found through our practical engagement with biodynamic agriculture. 

Fertilisation

Systematic fertiliser use has led agriculture out of its traditional structures and into the modern world. Modern manuring practice however should not be limited to nutrient replacement but needs a far more comprehensive approach.  This is what lies at the heart of biodynamic agriculture - the creation by human beings of an agricultural organism. The livestock within it supply its plant population with the right manure. The plants in their turn enliven the soil through their growth.  Fertilisation always proceeds from the higher to the lower, from the ego consciousness of human beings to the soul nature of animals and from these to the living power of plants and thence to the soil. 

The issue of farm compost is being taken far more seriously in Europe than it was only a few years ago.  How do the various composting methods differ? What is the right approach to manuring and compost making on my farm? The question of foliar feeding and agri-forestry is widely discussed in the tropics – how has it been applied there and what can be learned from it for other climatic zones?

Preparations

The preparations are agents of fertilisation, but of a quite specific kind.  What processes do they invite?  How do we understand the relationship between spirit and substance when Rudolf Steiner says in the Agriculture Course that new spiritual forces must be drawn down so that life can continue on the earth?  As well as stimulating the formation of substances and the processes of life and maturation,  the preparations also serve to individualise a landscape. Ego processes can be activated – but the question is,  how we can learn to observe and communicate in that realm? Can we find strength and fulfilment through the practical care of the preparations, our inner relationship to them and their social integration?   The preparations have been worked with all over the world for many decades. We can experience great richness in all this diversity.

The creation of soil fertility belongs in the first place to agriculture.  It can be advanced and supported by researching the relationship between substances and forces, developing innovative land ownership structures and working with an economy that doesn't burden the land with capital but instead releases it.  In this way a further step is taken and the care of soil fertility becomes a cultural task in society for all those wishing to take active responsibilty for this essential common good. 

The Michael Letter “The sense- and thought- systems of man in relation to the world” (GA26) accompanies this theme.