A topic of frequent conversation at more than a few winemakers’ dinners these days is the difference between organic, biodynamic and sustainable farming systems. It is a confusing topic, a minefield of semantics and confounding nomenclature not easily defined in the confines of this column, but I thought I would take a try since our company utilizes all three systems for various clients.

The basic tenet of an organic farming system is the use of approved “organic” materials to control pests of various kinds in a given cropping system. The materials, while still pesticides in the classic definition of the word, are generally regarded as environmentally safer control alternatives than those employed by main stream agriculture. It is important to realize however that any compound is a chemical, just as salt or water is, and that some of our most potent carcinogens, like aflatoxins, come from nature.

Biodynamic is a holistic, spiritual farming system that incorporates many organic farming principals as well as the sun, lunar phases and ecological diversity to harmonically co- exist with nature in the course of growing a crop. While many of the prescribed practices, such as the much talked about burying of the cow horn with manure, are considered controversial and of questionable science, Biodynamic is really all about the practitioner getting in touch with every aspect and peculiarity of a particular site, something every great farmer strives to attain anyway.

Sustainable farming is a self-correcting discipline that utilizes a self-assessment scoring system to evaluate one’s progress. It combines best management practices from other farming systems, like organic and biodynamic, to positively impact an organizations triple bottom line; fiscal, environment and society. I consider it a more flexible and dynamic system. Nearly every organism (well maybe not some humans) practices, either consciously or unconsciously, sustainability. I would submit it is something we may never actually achieve but the process of trying provides great benefits to practitioners, the environment and consumers alike.

– Steve McIntyre