Manfred and his superheroes
Sustainability begins in the mind
Today, Manfred produces fruit. He owns 4.5 hectares in Coldrano where he mainly cultivates crunchy, sweet apples. He is one of Val Venosta’s 1,750 apple producers. But it hasn’t always been like that. His father died and left a farm with cows and a meadow when he was 9 years old. At that time, he didn’t have any Golden Delicious apple trees, but just a few seedlings and hay for the cows.
He wanted to become a farmer and thus trained at Laimburg, the technical college for fruit production, viticulture and horticulture in Ora and the leading research center for South Tyrol’s agriculture, where he learnt about the importance of predatory insects and spiders when it comes to naturally fighting pests in agriculture. He soon realized that you can’t do without them. These great insects are of great help to the producer because they eat pests that can cause economic damage to the plants.
„If only I could be one of these beneficial spiders…“ Manfred had started producing cauliflower at the family farm at a young age and converted to fruit-growing in the 1980s. The school’s think tank began to bear fruit: Manfred became an open-minded thinker. It was in his first years as a fruit producer that AGRIOS, the work group for integrated fruit production in South Tyrol, was founded. AGRIOS was quite revolutionary for that time and still is some kind of bible for most of South Tyrol’s apple producers. It’s about finding the golden mean and preserving a balance between pests and beneficial insects in order to reduce the use of fertilizers and pesticides to a minimum. How? Beneficial insects work more sustainably than any synthetic pesticide. Because the focus is on protecting human health and the environment.
For Manfred, the yearly AGRIOS guidelines have offered information and advice since 1988. Manfred is able to put into practice what sounds very theoretical on paper: „I don’t get nervous as soon as I see a louse and I thus don’t have to run to the sprayer immediately!“ He inspects his orchards with great care and only uses pesticides if crop failures are imminent. If it is absolutely necessary, he applies pesticides at nighttime, especially in summer: „At night, there’s neither wind nor thermals, which could also lead to drift. And before the wind starts blowing in the morning, I have already done.” His AGRIOS credo is „Observe accurately, act carefully and integrate what makes sense for nature.“
In integrated production, natural methods of maintenance are preferred to chemical-synthetic substances, which are reduced to a minimum. Fertilization is rationalized as well, because fertilizer dosage is determined by the nutrient levels in the soil and the specific needs of the plants: no overdose for the soil, just what is necessary. Manfred’s work requires extensive knowledge and the courage to experiment something new. „I voluntarily tried out new methods many years ago that are now used in organic production. But I don’t have to be an organic producer for that. Thanks to integrated production I have many possibilities to produce sustainable products without renouncing to quality and a good remuneration.“ By the way, Manfred could never become an organic producer because he is allergic to sulfur and sulfur is used as a fertilizer in organic production.
„You don’t have to become Superman. Spiderman is absolutely fine.“ An upright person, deeply rooted and standing by his values, namely integrated production as a way of life. Not a bad decision, as the last 30 years have shown. „My whole family can live on apple production and we are very happy.“
The AGRIOS guidelines are a set of rules ranging from production to storage and marketing. Pioneers like Manfred have internalized the basic principles of integrated production and for them it’s quite easy to deduce principles for their daily work. One example is the choice of variety. How can the right choice of variety affect the sustainability of an orchard? Manfred knows the answer. „It's quite simple. If I take into account that each variety has different demands concerning air, light and sun and if I know my orchards well, then I plant red varieties in the valley floor and Golden Delicious on slopes. So each variety finds its ideal ambience and you thus need less synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.“
Manfred is very eager to try out new varieties. His orchards distinguish themselves by varietal diversity: Golden Delicious, Gala, Braeburn, Red Delicious, Kanzi, Shinano Gold, Jonagold, Pinova and soon Ambrosia and Cosmic as well. A great advantage of this varietal diversity are the varieties’ different ripening periods. You can mainly harvest with your family members as you can extend the harvest period. This saves money because you just need little or no harvest workers.
For Manfred, quality and sustainability are the keywords of both the present and the future and, when pursued with determination, they will remain the unique selling points of South Tyrol’s apple production. This approach started in the 1980s. In the decades before integrated production was introduced, South Tyrol was again and again confronted with the resistance of pests and especially of the European red mite in 1964 and 1982. Trying out synthetic agents at random to fight these pests was no longer successful. Especially in 1982, the European red mite caused heavy financial losses so that the farmer’s initial skepticism about integrated production was soon removed. The way was paved for new ideas. Natural antagonists were much more efficient against “bad” spiders and insects.
Spiderman Manfred and many other heroes were immediately keen on these pioneering principles of the AGRIOS program and are still part of it. They strongly believe in integrated production and face the challenges of the future with confidence. Certified, with a clear goal in mind and on the side of good. Because they protect and promote the natural antagonists of pests and thus guarantee the natural protection of species with their knowledge and their daily commitment for their apples, the environment and for the consumers of their products.