In 1991 a state law came into force in South Tyrol regulating integrated and organic farming. Arnold Vigl, who was employed at the Agriculture Division for South Tyrol, became a member of the appropriate commission. It was his calling, he’d had farming connections in his family since he was a young boy. In his mid-twenties, he finally realised that long-cherished wish, he took over his family's apple orchards and continued to work for the South Tyrol government.
Organic farming had long had a place on Arnold's desk. And it wasn't long before it also had a place in his fields. As chance - or luck - would have it, he voiced the thoughts that had matured at his desk in a conversation with organic farmers. Arnold began to see himself as a fellow organic farmer. His thoughts quickly became reality and he switched to organic farming.
“The orchards have a social element for me. We harvest together as a family and that unites us.”
After the switch to organic, the time and effort of farming increased significantly. Arnold passed the machine work on to organic farmers from the Biosüdtirol cooperative, while continuing to do the pruning, manual thinning and harvesting himself. Sometimes this means working in the dark with a head torch after a long day at the office.
One good thing about overtime is that the family often harvests together. Arnold's wife, three children, his brother Ossi and his cousin all help. Day and night - whatever the weather. It reminds him of how he worked, chatted, occasionally argued and enjoyed the time spent together with his parents and his two brothers in the fields. The memory still resonates.
Being an organic farmer requires a lot of patience and calmness. Arnold knows this from personal experience. The switch to organic farming initially went well, but then there was an outbreak of blood lice. The Fuji apple trees suffered badly. Arnold had to choose between returning to integrated farming or changing varieties. He chose to bring in resistant varieties suitable for his soil and microclimate. Making him one of the first farmers to plant the Natyra® variety, which has a reputation as being delicious but difficult to grow. But thankfully this variety is less susceptible to blood lice.
That's not all, the Natyra® variety also compliments the Gala variety (which ripens early) well in terms of ripening (late September). This is important, because Arnold often has very little time during the harvest period. The apples must be harvested at precisely the right time to develop their full potential. The harvest dates for each variety in each zone are therefore precisely fixed and limited to just a few days. Cultivating various varieties means spreading the workload over more time, reducing stress.
Arnold’s noticed that his original theoretical concept of organic farming has changed significantly with practical experience. Potential organic farmers also benefit from his experience. Because Arnold and his colleagues are one of the first points of contact for farmers switching from integrated to organic farming. The Office for Organic Production records the organic declarations of the producers and saves them in the organic information system. At the same time the farmers get an overview of organic apple cultivation through the associations, inspection bodies and cooperatives.
Farmers are allowed to harvest their first organic apples three years after switching. A feeling that Arnold knows only too well. Often working late into the night, guided by the light of his head torch.