An entrepreneur through and through. Philipp studied business administration in Innsbruck, earned his degree and completed internships as an auditor. He found a job in the office of the Bundesliga club in Hanover. It was perfect for a dyed-in-the-wool football fan and passionate football player – and just what he had always wanted. But he was homesick and there was a situation in the family. The feeling that he was needed at home made it impossible for him to settle down in the big city.
Back when he was a student, he was always in the apple orchards and helped at harvest time on several organic farms in Terlano. His father Florian was a member of the Mair-Larch family of organic pioneers from Terlano and his mother came from a farming family in Morter. However, both of them worked in other fields, as the older siblings had inherited the farms. Farming has always remained a major theme for the entire family. And deep inside, even Philipp’s mother wanted to establish herself as a farmer. After purchasing a small orchard, she started to develop a “holiday on the farm” business. The grey cityscape did not make Philipp happy, and he returned his homeland. Grey for green and zero to one: in favour of nature, his roots and his family. Philipp seized the opportunity to breathe new life into his parents’ business, planned to make it bigger.
But everything in its turn and nothing before its time. First he gained the required knowledge, immersing himself in the material. He took an intensive course in fruit cultivation at Laimburg Technical School – not the fast version – and passed the final examination as a private person along with the secondary school pupils. He simply had to have the know-how. Even if it wasn’t always easy and at the beginning, people laughed at him for pursuing his dream of becoming a farmer. Next, he worked for a major organic farmer in Andrian, helped where he could and was pleased about what he was able to learn there. The farmer even taught him how to drive a tractor, from zero.
A small orchard and a big dream. He calculated, estimated and started all over again. Until he could give himself the green light. Piece by piece, he bought the machinery he needed. “Above all, it took a Herculean effort to procure all the machines. There was nothing I could work with there. From the apple picking bags to the tractor, I had to buy everything.”
He expanded, as an entrepreneur would describe it, and leased ever more land. Today he farms 6 hectares, including the orchard of the apple farmer from Andrian who once was his teacher. According to Philipp: “Farmers are basically entrepreneurs in nature.” They have to plan in advance, manage, delegate, prepare, take risks, negotiate, network, throw out ideas, start all over again, stay the course and calculate. And in Philipp’s case even more intensely, as he also had to carry the lease for the land. “I’m making a go of it, but others in my age group can run their parents’ farm. They have it a bit easier,” he said.
Just like in a game of football, farmer are also familiar with life’s “defeats”: times when something doesn’t work out as planned: “I had to withdraw from one lease. I took a big gamble and bid too high. Now the price for this apple variety is in the cellar and I can’t make a profit from farming that piece of land. Closure – forget it and carry on – next year things will pick up again. I’m sure.”
Right now, he cultivates among others the varieties Gala, Bonita, Granny Smith, Topaz, Natyra® e Braeburn. Several thousand trees, all by himself. “I can do it, but only because I have many scab-resistant varieties. That takes away lots of the pressure during scab season and when it comes to plant protection as well,” Philipp said. At the Alto Adige Consultancy Centre for fruit growing and viticulture, he has a reputation for being ambitious and digging in. Until he gets it right. He frequently rings them, receiving tips and forecasts.
And in general, he is not a lone wolf – on the contrary. The way he listens and accepts advice always help him further. He acts the same way in his family environment, taking the good advice of his mother and listening to his partner, who provides words of support when he has the occasional bad day.
His mother also lives on the farm, where she has run the holiday on the farm business since 2005. She is also a doer, a strong woman who has not let personal losses get her down. She started out as a nurse, and then took courses in order to get a license for her business. Come to think of it, Philipp is a lot like her. And she is just as ambitious – she doesn’t do things half-way. Her farm received “4 flowers” right away, which was the highest award for holiday on the farm businesses in South Tyrol at the time.
The three holiday flats are usually occupied, the guests are happy there, and Mum is also pleased. “She enjoys doing it,” said Philipp, and he can also imagine taking on the role of host when his mum no longer feels like working. Here at Das Landhaus, located in the heart of the village of Terlano yet off the beaten track enough to ensure a pleasant level of quietude. Ten hens, each with her own name, a few bunnies, two cats. Philipp would like to start a family and grow old here. He cultivates apples here and makes some wine as well. A hobby, he says.
He found himself here, as an organic farmer.
“I always wanted to do organic; everything else was unthinkable. I grew up with organic and believe in the successful path of organic agriculture.”
To Philipp, “organic” is all about respecting nature and producing fruit as naturally as possible. This meets with the greatest success from cultivating apple varieties that are more resistant. He thinks those varieties should receive more support from organic farmers. When spraying the necessary plant protection, he pays attention to the signals the trees themselves give him. “When I shake the tree and the blossom in the first Y branch flies away, that signals that it’s the right time to thin out the blossoms with lime sulphur because the tree is in full bloom.”
This year Phillip was a bit too early – a day, maybe – he was somewhat impatient; but now he is on pins and needles. Are there still enough apples on the tree? Entrepreneurial risk, anxiety. But that’s part of being an apple farmer with heart and soul. He doesn’t think he will be able to buy his own apple orchard at any point in the future. To do that, apple prices will have to surge instead of falling, he says. But who knows...
Philipp always has a few projects in his back pocket, and he eventually carries them out. He often feels that it’s not exactly the right time to implement them, but he waits for the right moment and doesn’t give up. He plays a close hand and doesn’t talk much about his projects. And he approaches the harvest the same way. He doesn’t try to judge his success until all the apples are off the trees. Like waiting until the end of the fiscal year to look at the closing balance.
Or the three final whistles at a football game.