At the twelfth edition of Interpoma, the international fair dedicated to apples held in Bolzano from November 17th to 19th, this sector appeared to be in good health, driven by new technologies and automation of harvesting systems.
Agriculture 4.0, according to the most recent data from the Smart Agrifood Observatory of the School of Management of the Milan Polytechnic, is a continuously growing market in Italy. It has experienced a real explosion in the last two years, going from 540 million Euros of turnover in the first half of 2020 to 1.6 billion in 2021.
The 4.0 agriculture solutions most used by Italian farmers are management software and machine monitoring and control systems. Added to these are harvesting robots, such as those seen at the Bolzano Fair, among which the drones proposed by Tevel Aerobotics Technologies, an Israeli startup founded in 2017, already used in Italy by the Rivoira Group, stand out.
Interpoma has therefore unveiled the future of apple production, but it is clear to all that new technologies take time to adapt to producers, land, and complexity. In fact, to be efficient, the machines need suitable land and structured orchards for automated harvesting; as we well know, these situations vary from region to region. In fact, the new technologies require a two-dimensional development of the plants, while today it is three-dimensional, or rather a sort of linear wall to facilitate harvesting.
Interpoma Award 2022, the competition organized in collaboration with the Faculty of Science and Technology of the Free University of Bolzano and Soi (Italian Horticulture Society), was dedicated to water saving and technologies for water management optimization in apple orchards.
The award had two categories, one reserved for companies, the other for start-ups. The prize for the first category was awarded to the Polish company Inventia sp.z o.o. with the Agreus system. The system was judged by the jury of experts, chaired by Massimo Tagliavini, as the most complete and easy to use for precise control of irrigation management, based on water availability of the soil and climatic parameters.
A special mention was reserved to Plantection system by Nika, South Tyrolean company, recognized as a valid irrigation control technology for large farms or cooperatives, where system complexity and operational safety are key criteria.
The start-up award was assigned to Odis intelligent irrigation system, by Odis Solutions, based in Bolzano, as highly promising for its ability to integrate different sensors – both for environmental variables and for plant conditions (in a versatile, cloud-based App), which allows farmers to monitor the water status of their orchards and to control the irrigation system.
The Mach Foundation presented some new selections. They are the result of the apple tree genetic improvement program, biological control activities against the Asian bug, and innovative “Guyot apple orchard”, which suits particularly well to all futuristic technologies that normally require a standard size crown.
AT THE INTERPOMA CONGRESS THE OPERATORS TALKED ABOUT AMERICAN MARKET AND INNOVATION
It was up to Gerhard Dichgans to open the work of the Congress with the difficult issue of the decline of Red Delicious on the American market, as a result of the arrival of new cultivars and consumer disaffection with this variety.
The picture of the sector traced by the speeches proposed by Tim Welsh (Columbia Fruit Packers), Susan Brown (Horticulture and Plant Breeding Sections Cornell AgriTech), Tim Barnes (Category Partners, LLC), and the Italian Stefano Musacchi (Washington State University) is interesting, but worrying.
The reports, in fact, highlighted the great distortions that the apple sector in particular, but in general that of fruit and vegetables, is undergoing as a result of climate change, the increased diffusion of pathologies and new insects, and a demand that tends to decrease.
Certainly America is not Italy, indeed Europe, but as often happens, what takes place overseas is not long in coming to the Old Continent.
The first signs have been visible for some time in many European Countries and record a worrying spread of new pests such as the Asian bug and pathologies that are leading to the cutting of plants in various production areas.
As for demand, we are witnessing a phenomenon of contraction determined by the increase in prices and by increasingly disoriented consumers in front of a shelf that abounds in terms of variety and denominations.
In the United States there are up to 60 varieties in production and 20 varieties available on the shelf, among which red ones dominate.
Apple is the best-selling fruit and this justifies the wide exposure in retail, but, as reported by Tim Barnes, the American consumers struggle to become attached to a variety, considering that in a few months from its appearance it risks disappearing from the shelf for arrival of more promising varieties.
The European panorama is less gloomy, but the worst could be around the corner, also as a result of the new regulation proposal for the sustainable use of plant protection products (Sur) promoted by the European Commission, which raises concerns among producers and consortia.
On the American market, according to the experts, the new well-supported cultivars in terms of investment and research are successful, but only if accompanied by a consumer information campaign, otherwise the commercial extinction a few years after their launch could happen.
The so-called ‘Fondation’ varieties are also holding up well; among them, Gala stands out, and, against all odds, Red Delicius, too, which records an increase in sales in 2022 thanks to the low price compared to the new varieties.
The Honeycrisp group performed very well. This group includes Cosmic Crisp, the most successful in terms of growth, and ‘Branded’ varieties, which recorded double-digit growth.