FondsGoetheanum: Seeding and harvesting

"It is important to have robust seeds that produce a regular income."



Site-specific seed production 

For years, we have produced our biodynamic grain seed for Sativa Rheinau GA; in recent years, three to four hectares of winter wheat from Getreidezüchtung Peter Kunz. In the autumn, we plant about 200 kg per hectare of basic seed. These are strains of wheat that were obtained by selection under bio-dynamic conditions. The following summer, we will get a manifold harvest. We hope for a yield of 4 to 5 tons per hectare.
Compared with normal production, all cultivation steps for seed production require increased care and extra labour: when ears appear in early summer, we go through the fields and look at all the plants. We remove weeds, foreign wheat and cereal species that do not exhibit the desired characteristics of the variety, or those that have transferable ear diseases. Before harvest, each field must be examined by a certified person who has received a specific training. This is what is written in the official guidelines. Before the combine harvester can begin its work, it must be carefully cleaned with compressed air. This is the only way to prevent any mixing with foreign grain. After harvest, a qualified professional checks the germination quality, purity and health of the grains. Only when this last stage of the journey has been successfully completed can the wheat be delivered as seed to Sativa in Rheingau.
This increased attention paid to grain also brings greater estimation of the production of the raw materials that bread-making depends on. For apprentices on our farm, this is a memorable experience.
My interest in seed production came from an observation that I have made on my own farm: several times after reseeding rye, I noticed the transformation of stock, which had become more adapted to the farm. That experience has shown me that the key cannot be to organise agriculture and seed production in a general way, particularly not globally: both need to be site specific.

Alfred Schädeli, FiBL Farm, Frick

Varieties for future generations

Interview with Anno Schipholt, a young and conscientious biodynamic farmer. After some years traveling and learning on different farms, including some in Australia, for two years he has been running a biodynamic farm with his wife in Siblingen.

How do you see the work of biodynamic plant breeders?

For organic and biodynamic farms, it is important to have robust and disease-resistant seeds, giving average yields. For biodynamic and many other organic farms, superior quality is the first priority, not the best possible performance. I am grateful to have organic grain seeds of excellent quality supplied by Peter Kunz.

Why do you sow these varieties of cereal?

The Ostro variety of spelt and the Viva variety of wheat are ideal for us; they accept without question the amount of nitrogen naturally present in organic soils – which compared to conventional cereal crops is much less. These varieties are well adapted to place and weather conditions, providing a reasonable return independently of the weather. The risk of pre-harvest sprouting during wet summers such as this year is reduced.

Harvest certainty is an important argument in the choice of these varieties. Are there others?

These seeds are reproducible, so we produce half of our seed without loss of quality. In consideration of the seeds that I produce myself, I send an annual donation to the breeder as a contribution to the continuation of his work.
Another reason is the beards on the ears of many of these varieties. Our farm is located in an area where there are many wild boar, they do not like cereals beards and are therefore not affected.
When I buy these seeds, I know that I support a sustainable breeding practice, which is carried with great moral responsibility and a willingness to serve farmers and consumers, not shareholders or investors.
I welcome this fruitful work undertaken for over thirty years. When I think about the competition to organic breeders that comes from rich and powerful corporations, I think this work deserves more recognition.

The selection work. Left: spelt with short stem, low maturity. Right: typical maturity spelt with bright colours.

Can you buy all your seeds in reproducible quality?

With cereals, there is a very good start in this direction. But we still lack seeds for specialty crops. Again, it is important to have robust varieties of high quality that give a regular income. Quality is more important to me than high yields.

What do you want from consumers?

I wish that more and more consumers would realise that the quality of food, the quality of what we eat, influences our bodily and spiritual faculties and our well-being. Food should be fresh and not have travelled hundreds or thousands of miles before entering Switzerland. Very specifically, I wish that Swiss consumers would prefer Swiss organic and biodynamic products.
I have another wish: that consumers show an interest in my work. I'd be happy to show them my farm and talk with them about the future of agriculture, and the problem of hunger in the world. I do not think GM seeds solve this great problem, on the contrary. It makes farmers dependent on multinational corporations, from which they have to buy seeds, fertilisers and pesticides. This dependency does not leave them with a lot of money and they are getting poorer. This limits their freedom, and so their capacity for action and development.

As a young farmer biodynamic, why are you so committed to these seeds?

So that in 25 years my little girl and all those of her age will be able to buy even more quality products from selected biodynamic seeds, so that their children are healthy in body and mind and can act effectively in their lives.

Thank you for this interview