An Apple Year | Episode 1 – December 2018

Over the last years it was recognizable that consumers are losing touch on how their groceries are produced. On the other hand there is an increasing demand on getting more awareness on how and where our food is produced. What kind of groceries are we buying every day? What effort is necessary to get food from the field to our table? What needs to be done – in our particular case we are talking about apples – to get them from the tree to the retail shelf? How much effort is necessary to produce a premium Styrian apple which is valued and bought by a consumer? Consumers are looking for premium, defect free fruit for an attractive price. What on the other hand are the expectations and desires of a fruit grower? Which risks and investments are necessary to fulfill all the customers’ expectations?

There are many open questions and with this blog we are trying to get some light into the dark. We decided to start this blog and spend a full production year with an Austrian fruit grower. Every month we will make an interview with the fruit producer, setting the emphasis on the special time of each season. We are starting in December 2018 shortly after the harvest and are accompanying Ms. Karin Lafer and her Family over the next months in their daily business.

With this blog it’s our aim to put awareness on the work effort which is necessary to produce high level fruit and also give a realistic picture of the work and desires of a fruit producing family.

EVA Apples: Hi Karin, first let me thank you and your family for joining us in making this blog over this current season. We would like to show our readers and interested people what it takes to produce premium fruit. Also we want to show people where the main challenges in fruit production are. Let’s start right away. Karin, it’s beginning of December, it’s 5° Celsius, the weather is – for December – good, but not very inviting for outdoor activities. Only you and your father are in this huge orchard, what are you doing today?

Karin: We are currently working on the winter cut. The orchard is, because of the dry and nice weather, good to drive on. That’s why we are using the opportunity to also cut the tree tops using our self-driving platform.

EVA Apples: Only looking at this orchard it seems like an enormous endless work. What variety are you growing here and how long does it take for only two people to cut all these trees?

Karin: Here we have 1,5 hectares of the club brand EVELINA. You are Right, even for us it feels likt this work takes forever. But no, you can’t put it this way. During the winter months this is our main work. But there are many things influencing our work. As in this orchard for example we are now first cutting the tree tops and afterwards we need a second run to cut the rest of the trees. Besides that the age of the trees in the orchard, the intensity of the vegetation, the variety and blossom bud rood are also playing an important role. But as a rule of thumb it takes us about 80-120 Hours per hectare.

EVA Apples: What is important when you are doing the winter cut? This is an essential work for growing excellent fruit one year later. Please explain us, what kind of influence this work in December has on the outcome – in regard of quality and quantity – on next year’s harvest?

Karin: Exactly, the winter cut is an essential work step within a production year. As we are getting rid of old and degraded wood and are cutting branches which have grown to strong it is possible to get more light into the trees. This is a main aspect for the coloration and the sugar values. Besides that we can, already at this stage, control the quantity and quality by scrutinizing the blossom buds

EVA Apples: Over the last three months you were all busy with harvesting. What do you think about your last crop? Are you satisfied with the quality? How were the climatic conditions compared to the past?

Karin: We can look back into a good production season. We have excellent qualities in regard of big juicy and perfectly colored apples. And their taste was is just delicious. In recent years we are more and more fighting with heavy rains, tempests and heating weaves. But also the frosts, especially the late frosts are a big challenge for us in order to produce high quality defect free fruit.

EVA Apples: If you are looking back, just a couple months, what has been the biggest challenge during harvest?

Karin: The high temperatures during the harvest have been a big challenge for us. We only had very short time frames for picking the individual varieties. The maturation period was very dynamic which turned out in short time frames for picking. It was almost impossible to plan all harvesting runs the right way. Besides all these factors it’s getting more and more difficult to get motivated and persistent harvesting staff.

EVA Apples: We now had 2 consecutive seasons with heavy frost. You are a family business. How were you dealing with such a dramatic situation?

Karin: The family bond is very important. We need to motivate ourselves and leave behind what can not be changed or influenced anymore. We needed to draw our attention on the future. Over all, we had the same amount of work to do, but because of the huge frost damage way less income. This was really a worst case scenario for our family. We knew we needed to do something to sustain our business. So we decided to take some risk and invest in a frost protection sprinkling device. And… for us it paid off. The second frost didn’t hit us that bad, because we invested in the frost protection sprinkling device and could prevent a big loss of our crop.

EVA Apples: What do you think will be the biggest challenges for the Styrian Fruit production in future?

 Karin: The climatic changes as frost, heat weaves, tempests etc. Also the increasing pressure of competition of eastern European countries will be a big challenge. The higher wages and the steep and small orchards in Austria are a disadvantage for us. Also the high competition in retail which turns out in low price strategies for food is not very encouraging for us. In Addition the legal frameworks (like usae of glyphosate, employment of seasonal workers, etc) should not be ignored.

EVA Apples: At the end of our interview we would like to give you the opportunity to ask us a question. Go ahead:

Karin: What is the significance of Styrian apples on the world market? What is your biggest challenge in sales?

 EVA Apples: The styrian apple has a high reputation. In our segment as quality provider we are in a similar line with production areas such as France or Italy. Of course it is always also a question of the individual variety and of taste. But as you said, it’s a world market. Austria is a small producing country and we are dealing with a very high Competition. For us as company but also as production area it will become more and more important to focus on the production of high quality fruit with a delicious taste. So we unconditionally need to focus on high quality standards. Besides that we need to draw attention to who we are and where our apples are coming from. What is unique in our region. Of course with the vulcanic soil, the picturesque landscape, the smaller and mainly family owned productions and the more favorable weather conditions compared to other regions, we have some highlights with which we can proudly position ourselves as a special and unique production area of high class fruit.

Karin, we thank you very much for the very interesting interview. We meet next time in January 2019. Until then we from EVA Apples are wishing you and your Family Merry Christmas and a happy new year.