Before taking up the role as CEO of APAL I headed off on a short break to the land of sausages, large beers and fast motorways Germany! While there my wife and I took the opportunity to visit a nearby apple orchard and was surprised to find such sizeable production so close to Hamburg and just one week from harvest. Located south of Hamburg, over the Elbe River (or under it) and just past Airbus (major German operation) and you find the start of Altes Land home of one third of Germanys 900,000 tonnes of apple production.
Altes Land or old country is an area of reclaimed marshland straddling parts of Lower Saxony and Hamburg (see the map below). The region is situated downstream from Hamburg on the south-western riverside of the Elbe (a river 1,091 kilometres (km) long commencing in the Czech Republic, north through Germany and ending in the North Sea 110km north-west of Hamburg). Altes Land was first dyked and then settled from around 1140 and the areas closer to the Elbe River in the 15th century.
The area is the biggest contiguous fruit-producing region in Central Europe and extends more than 143km2 (55 square miles). Of this area, 76.8 per cent of the trees are apples and 12.7 per cent are cherries. The areas closest to the Elbe are those with the highest population. Just 40 minutes from the centre of Germanys second most populist city, Hamburg we arrived at Jork where we visited two farms. The first was approximately 30 hectares (ha) and the second only half the size at 15ha. The majority of farms are around 15ha, although there are larger farms of 1,000ha. From a geographical perspective, Hamburg is the same latitude north as London with similar weather! The area south-west of Hamburg was first farmed in 1320 and by 1657 there were 202ha of fruit. However, the first documented production of apples, pears, plums, cherries and nuts wasnt until 1787. Today there are 10,500ha under cultivation with apple production close to 300,000 tonnes. Overall the breakdown of fruit production is 90 per cent apples, 6 per cent cherries, 4 per cent pears, plums and berries. The main apple harvest is mid September (with early variety harvest in August). The main varieties in the area are Jonagold introduced from 1968, Jonagored (more red than Jonagold), Elstar introduced in 1975 (does not brown quickly when cut), and Gloster (green yellow) often called Gloster 69 after the year it was introduced. The first orchard we visited had an impressive array of product from apples, pears and raspberries to apple and pear snaps, apple mustard, apple balsamic vinegar, apple glee (jam), and numerous other products derived from the fruit. As you can see by the picture below they encouraged apple tasting. The grower was off preparing for the weekend apple festival (September 7-8) to celebrate the apple harvest along with seven other growers. Being so close to Hamburg, the festival is a vast success and generates great tourism in autumn. I gather similar activities were undertaken for the cherry harvest in June. After filling up on delicious apple tastings and purchasing a bottle of apple snaps we then visited Christian Quest (pictured with John below) who runs a 15ha family orchard 14ha of apples and 1ha of cherries and pears. Apple varieties included two-three rows of Fujis for market (generally considered too sweet for market) with the remaining Jonagold and Elstar. Christians operation harvests, packs and sells directly to the supermarket. Any surplus fruit can be held in his onsite cold storage rooms for up to 12 months Jonagolds and eight months for Elster. In the autumn and winter they work on the upkeep of the orchard such as: logistics, substitute trees planted in February (trees are typically pushed out after 15 years) and graft new varieties. They do a spring cut to ensure sunlight access, in April/May watch for frost and protect the blossom and June is focused on the cherry harvest which they have netted for bird protection. Water is not an issue for the German farmers, but as the cities grow parts of this farm land is being sold off for property development (sold as housing to Hamburg commuters). Overall the mood was positive with a promising harvest.
About the author
John Dollisson started as Chief Executive Officer at Apple and Pear Australia Limited (APAL) Tuesday, 10 September 2013. He has recently embarked on a whirlwind tour of the growing regions and is looking forward to learning more about the industry. Click here to read more about John.