Delegates at international trade show Interpoma were treated to an illustration of Italian agricultural frugality during a field day visit to a farm and a packing shed on the first day of the conference on Thursday.
The field day is one of six that will be running for delegates across the three days of Interpoma and was a chance for delegates to learn about the history of apple growing in the South Tyrol region.
Farms sit cheek to cheek with their neighbour’s property with no boundaries or fences to demarcate them.
The rolling hills are filled with apple orchards of different varieties, including some from Australia, including Pink Lady and its various mutations.
Each farm has different varieties displayed in different paddocks, with different row spacing and treatments.
South Tyrol has similarities in climate to Tasmania, although the extremes in cold temperatures reached there would be different to any found in Australia.
Despite this, they get frost rarely, but when it does happen it is a significant event.
South Tyrol had two frosts last year with the second one so severe it wiped out 10 per cent of the region’s apple harvest in one night.
The South Tyrolean farmers have developed their own weapon in the fight against frost, with a series of overhead irrigation pumps that help keep the cold at bay.
Irrigation is used mainly in South Tyrol to help keep frost from affecting plants, the climate has sufficient year round rainfall that irrigation is not needed to cultivate plants.
The region receives about 100mm rainfall each year but it is spread out throughout the year to assist with growing.
The main apple varieties grown in South Tyrol include Pink Lady (and its various mutations), Golden Delicious, Royal Gala, Red Delicious, Fuji and Granny Smith.
Pink Lady is a variety that can be difficult to cultivate in other areas however it is a variety grown in Australia and particularly in Tasmania.
The most popular variety of apple in the domestic Italian market is Golden Delicious however that popularity is declining.
The next most popular variety in South Tyrol is Royal Gala and its various mutations.
Red Delicious is accepted by most domestic markets and has steady prices and is grown on 10-12 per cent of South Tyrol’s available land.
However it is not as widely accepted in export markets.
Traditionally Red Delicious were exported to Russia but in the past two years that has proved more difficult with Russia closing its import doors to European apples.
The field day and tour also included a tour of GruFrut Group’s new packing facility.
GruFrut Group is a new farmer cooperative that was recently established. It became a legal cooperative on April 1. The group was created from a merger of two cooperatives Grufrut and ESO.
The cooperative has 407 members who cultivate more than 951,000 hectares of apples. Last year the cooperative’s members supplied more than 51 million kilograms of fruit.
The new packing facility is a state-of-the-art facility that allows for the sorting, packing and storing of the member’s apples on their way through the supply chain from the farm to the buyer and then on to the consumer.
It has plans to reinvest in the packing house and install a new grading system that will increase productivity.
The cooperative invests with funding from private investors in the Bolzano community, with 50 per cent of its funding needs coming from this source.
Sorting and packing is still done by hand at GruFrut’s facility, with apples moving through the factory on large conveyor belts.
Caitlin Jarvis is a guest of the Italian Trade Agency for Interpoma 2016, that runs from November 24-26 at Bolzano, Italy.