Kuno is the youngest of the Christoph siblings, and in South Tyrolean farming tradition that was always a reason not to take over a farm. But Kuno, the practical man in the family, attended the Laimburg technical school for fruit growing. "Let beneficial insects come up and, if possible, do away with plant protection treatments," is the thought his father gives him when he took over the farm.
"It goes more naturally. I became an organic farmer with that in mind."
Kuno takes his father's statement to heart and becomes enthusiastic about integrated farming. He watches how the beneficial insects develop in his apple orchards and only carries out treatments when the pests get the upper hand. "At some point I realised the limit of integrated farming, there were still far too many plant protection treatments with synthetic agents. So that was the end of the integrated way for me."
With like-minded farmers, Kuno decides to grow apples organically after hearing a lecture from an Austrian organic consultant. "Many things were not as simple as presented in the lecture. But the speaker was the right man at the right time, because since than we believe that organic farming works."
In 1990, there was neither an organic cooperative nor organic associations in South Tyrol. A small group of pioneers around Kuno founded the organic association Bioland Südtirol in cooperation with the association Bioland Germany. After the harvest, they delivered the apples to the integrated fruit cooperatives for storage and then marketed them themselves.
In thick catalogues for industry leaders, Kuno and his comrades-in-arms searched for contacts in the German natural food sector. "The market prices were ok, but we organic farmers were not well organised," recalls Kuno, who led the marketing organisation for some time as chairman. "We wanted to rethink everything in the beginning. In retrospect, we could have saved ourselves some mistakes. But we knew what we wanted: independent organic sales." Organisationally, organic farmers are constantly improving. After a series of mergers, the organic cooperative that belongs to the organic farmers themselves is born: Biosüdtirol. With the foundation of Biosüdtirol, the organic farmers shift their focus to the further development of organic farming.
"Better a broken pump than a broken soil."
From the very beginning, the organic apple pioneers renounce synthetic pesticides, and only use compounds that are as close as possible to naturally occurring compounds as found in nature. Through resistant varieties in cultivation and mechanical processing, the organic farmers continue to reduce plant protection treatments.
It is a long way to go, and in the beginning, there is a lack of suitable machinery. Organic crop protection agents, such as the stone meal bentonite, clogged the pump of the sprayers. "The manufacturer told me to stop organic farming, because our crop protection products destroy the pump. Better a broken pump than broken soil," was my response.
A living soil is the basis for sustainable agriculture and the be-all and end-all for organic farmers. This starts with plant protection products that are familiar for Mother Nature, continues with fertilisation and gentle soil cultivation, and ends with sowing. The grass in Kuno's apple orchards stands tall in the tramlines, and he does not mow it until harvest time. The tall grass provides food and shelter for a wide variety of beneficial insects.
Kuno's favourite apple is the Topaz, which he harvests in September between the Gala and Braeburn varieties. For him, storable resistant varieties that taste good are the future of organic apple growing. "That's why I'm planting Natyra and Giga next."
Far beyond his apple orchards, Kuno is committed to the environment. As chairman of the local environmental group, he cares deeply about habitat conservation. The group's goal is to protect the landscape, nature and climate. Proactively, they work out proposals for better environmental protection in the community. For example, the environmental group is campaigning against the extension of the runway at Bolzano airport.
"We organic farmers do not yet manage to make organic understandable to everyone. But that is our goal, because organic is good for nature and for us humans," Kuno is sure. Kuno is more than happy to take guests that are holidaying on the farm at the House Maderneid into the apple meadows. "Growing organic fruit was the wish of the whole family. We are glad to have taken this step and are happy to show everyone how organic farming works."