Back in ancient times, the moon was the center of everybody’s attention. People worshipped the moon and believed that it had mystical powers. Since then, the lunar effect on human mood and behavior has been an issue for psychological and astrological research. Surprisingly, many economic papers are also concerned about the influence of the lunar phases on stock returns. Yuan et al. (2006) found that stock returns (defined as the change in the value of a stock market index) are higher during the new moon period than during the full moon period. This difference is independent from volatility, trading volume, bond returns and interest rates. Interestingly, this effect is not influenced by calendar-related anomalies: the January effect, the calendar month effect, the day-of-the-week effect, and the pre-holiday effect. Of course, it remains to be seen whether these results are related to the moon’s mystical powers or human superstitions about them.
While the correlation between the lunar phases and stock returns can make us question the market participant’s rationality and even sanity, the notion of using the lunar calendar for farming wouldn’t strike most modern people as odd. The well-known practice of moon phase farming dates back to the ancient civilizations of the Nile and Euphrates.
From the 18th century on, driven by the ideas of Enlightenment (the philosophy behind the Industrial Revolution), Europeans sought to improve crop yields and industrialize farming. By the mid-19th century, the use of chemical fertilizers in farming was widespread. In addition, the landscapes of Europe and Britain were changing dramatically, as more and more people were moving to the cities to work in dreary sweatshops and textile mills. It seemed that humans themselves were fast becoming automated extensions of the industrial process.
This “soulless” industrial approach to nature horrified many intellectuals. Thus, in the early 20th century, Rudolf Steiner championed the biodynamic method of farming (one of the first organic farming movements in Europe), often called the holistic approach to agriculture. The philosophy behind this approach is that all plants, animals and the astrological cycles live in inter-related spaces that affect each other.
The main idea behind the biodynamic method of agriculture is that a farm is perceived to be a self-sustaining organism that follows the rhythms of nature. Biodynamic farmers believe that every plant has its own character and energy, which are harmonized with nature and the astrological cycle. More specifically, the moon phases (new moon, first quarter, full moon, and third quarter) define the favorable time for sowing, planting, cropping, and harvesting any particular crop. A biodynamic calendar was created to assist farmers in planning their crop cycles. (You can even go to www.amazon.com and order the biodynamic calendar of 2017).
Biodynamic (BD) farmers make use of the same principles as Organic (ORG) farmers. Just like ORG farmers, BD farmers use manure and compost for soil fertilization. However, BD is not the same as ORG; rather, it represents a narrower spectrum of organic farming. Use of astrological calendar is only one of the principles used in BD agriculture. Other principles call for the use of local breeds and varieties, and “strongly encourage local production and distribution systems.”
Today, 5,091 farms are certified as biodynamic around the world (Demeter, 2016). Even though the scientific community in general is skeptical of biodynamic agriculture, some research studies have found positive environmental effects on energy use and efficiency from using biodynamic methods. Proponents of BD agriculture also suggest that biodynamic practices can help prevent the plant diseases which are prevalent in industrial farming.
THE ROLE OF THE MOON IN GEORGIAN VITICULTURE: COULD THE PAST BECOME THE FUTURE?
Could relying on century-old practices help Georgian farmers improve crop productivity and at the same time satisfy the strict rules for entry into the European common agricultural market? The moon has historically played an important role in Georgian agriculture. By observing the moon phases, Georgian farmers were able to identify the right time for cropping, harvesting, and storing agricultural products. This approach to farming is still used by older people in the rural areas of Georgia.
For example, my father uses particular days of the lunar calendar for harvesting grapes and bottling wine. He believes that harvesting should be done during the waxing phase (from new moon to full moon when the moon’s visible size becomes bigger) because grapes are juicier, sweeter and they weigh more in this period. Furthermore, in order to prevent bottles from breaking, he believes it is better to bottle wine during the waning phase (when the moon’s apparent size decreases).
The biodynamic viticulture movement has become very trendy, and has already received a substantial following in Europe and the United States. Georgia, with its long traditions of observing the lunar phases for wine production, can turn this knowledge into a business opportunity.
According to the National Statistics Office of Georgia, the share of wine in the country’s export is 5% – quite a high figure for a small country. The problem with Georgian wine, however, is that at 12-15 EUR per bottle it is much more expensive than French, Italian, or German premium wines on the shelves of, say, German supermarkets. Therefore, Georgian winemakers find it challenging to compete on the European markets.
While Georgia does not have the scale to compete with much larger producers in the standard wine segment, it can gain share in special niche markets, such as biodynamic wines, which retail in Europe at an average price of 20 EUR.
There are a few successful examples of countries promoting biodynamic brands. For example, Switzerland, being unable to produce substantial amounts of wine, has focused on quality instead of quantity. On the Wine Traveler’s Guide website, you can find a brochure that introduces the Swiss biodynamic viticulture: “While large-scale winemaking is common, an undercurrent of small, like-minded producers are helping to elevate the offering from supermarket wines to a more tantalizing range of biodynamic and organic wines that speak of their pure alpine sites.”
Note that biodynamic production requires more labor resources than conventional agriculture. This can be good news for Georgian farmers, who have traditionally preferred to live on their ancestral lands, and have been reluctant to move to the cities.
In the age of computer technologies, it may seem that old traditions will inevitably be lost, as they hold back “economic progress.” But the practice of organic and biodynamic farming may prove the opposite – old traditions don’t have to hold us back. On the contrary – they can propel us into the future.