09. October 2019

Making apple cultivation more sustainable

There’s no doubt that one of the greatest challenges of our times is climate change. For a producer of foodstuffs, a responsible approach towards nature should be an integral part of a company’s mission and vision. This entails responsibility towards humans and nature in every step of the value chain: From cultivation through to loading, measures should be taken to protect the environment and its resources. This is the only way to integrate sustainability into the entire process and anchor it in as a long-term practice.

What should we be afraid of?

By the end of this century, the planet is at risk of dramatic global warming; the sea level may also rise significantly and flood many coastlines. Around the Mediterranean Sea and in other areas of the subtropics and tropics, rainfall will probably diminish – the result would be devastating damage. Throughout history, the earth’s climate has always undergone changes of immense impact, such as the ice age. To date, however, these occurrences have been unavoidable events due to environmental factors alone. The current environmental issue is different: For the first time in history, the climate change that is currently taking place has, beyond a doubt, been triggered by man. “It is up to us, therefore, to rectify this perilous development by reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” says Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

Apples need a lot of water

Producing sufficient quantities of top-quality apples requires a great deal of water. However, climate change is reducing the water supply while, trees require more water in order to maintain their productivity. Although our home region of South Tyrol still has, on balance, a large amount of water, we expect this situation to deteriorate in the future due to rising temperatures, solar radiation and the resultant increase in plant evaporation and transpiration. Experts also warn us of decreasing water availability caused by, amongst other factors, glacial melting and drier summers. On a practical level, this means that fruit growers must turn their attention to resource-friendly irrigation; the sparing use of limited resources such as water is implicit in the definition of the term ‘sustainability’. What does sustainability mean? Sustainability means improving quality of life within a sound environment and healthy climate. Sustainability means deriving energy from renewable sources, and the careful use of this valuable resource. Sustainability means using local materials and the respectful handling of resources in all areas of life. Environmental, social and economic principles should not pose a conflict of interest for future generations; rather, they should create the basis for harmonious interaction with the long-term success and independence of a company.

What does sustainable fruit growing involve?

In South Tyrol, alongside the exceptional readiness of fruit growers to invest in sustainability and health, supplementary policies have been put in place, including guidelines on plant protection issued by the Regional government. This means that South Tyrol is held to even higher standards than those provided by the national plant protection policy. The new guidelines include distance rules to ensure precision application of pesticides and to prevent spray drift onto neighbouring area. The distances for orchards which are in the vicinity of schools, kindergartens, playgrounds, parks, sports fields or health facilities are subject to particularly stringent regulations. The new directives ensure significant auxiliary health protection for the local population. Raimund Prugger, chairman of the Vinschgau/Venosta Farmers’ Union, is in no doubt: “By adhering to the new regulations, farmers are showing responsibility towards their fellow citizens and the environment.” In addition to distance regulations, farmers are also opting for new technological methods: “We want to make the transit to new spray technology, which is more reliable and prevents drift, as quickly as possible,” explains Thomas Oberhofer, chairman of VI.P (Vinschgau/ Venosta Cooperatives’ Association). Farmers already established this goal by means of the AGRIOS directives of 2015. Equipment for low-drift machinery includes a blower attachment and injector nozzles as well as cover plates for the sprayers. In addition to fulfilling the purposes of the environmental policy, this technique also saves on pesticides, thus providing an additional economic value.


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