Development of the production of small fruits at high altitudes

Encouraging fruit production in the mountains

The ‘”abandonment of agriculture” which has taken place in the Adamello Park over the last decades has brought with it an ‘”abandonment of rural areas”. The progressive affirmation of the dichotomous land use of forest/urbanization has been detrimental for the typical mountain landscape, resulting in the loss of opportunities for local economic development.

In the report accompanying the Adamello Park Territory Plan and in the Technical Standards for Implementation, it is however clearly explained that the development and conservation of agriculture is the primary objective of the Park Plan. In particular, art. 42 “agriculture in the valley” of the Park TSI suggests that agricultural activities in terraced areas should be re-established, encouraging fruit growing in the mountains in particular.

Given the excessive fragmentation that characterizes the agricultural land in these areas, the cultivation of small fruits and strawberries for fresh consumption is undoubtedly of interest. This seems particularly true especially in the more northern areas of the Park on land with a favourable aspect and a cool and more continental climate affected by a massive seasonal presence of tourists.

The cultivation of small fruits started (in different ways for each species) in Italy in the 1950s, on the basis of the ancient tradition of collecting and selling the wild fruits of the forest which, as older people well remember, were present in the upper Vallecamonica too.

In Italy there are 344 hectares of woody berry plants, of which 55 hectares in Lombardy (ISTAT Provisional figures for 2004, in “The Cultivation of small fruits for the exploitation of marginal areas – Raspberry – Blackberry – Blueberry, Research Paper No. 66/2007” – Lombardy Region, GD Agriculture).

Most Italian production is destined for the fresh produce market, but domestic production is insufficient to cover domestic demand: self-sufficiency was estimated at 21% in 2004 and Italy is one of the leading manufacturers and exporters in Europe, with the highest production in Piedmont and Trentino Alto Adige (G. Bounous, Piccoli Frutti, Edagricole Bologna 2009).

Unless it is cultivated just as a hobby, it is a crop that requires highly specialized production techniques, because of the delicacy of the fruit and its nutritional characteristics, as well as good and efficient logistics and sales.

Recent years have however seen interest in the topic from local organizations, from courses on the cultivation of small fruits organized by the Adamello Park in 2001-2002, to the more recent initiatives of the Department for Agriculture of the Comunità Montana as well as some courses and seminars organized by the Faculty of Agriculture of Milan University, at the Edolo Campus.

In particular in the area of ??the upper ValleCamonica and of the Val Saviore there are large areas of land that could be used for such crops, especially in the light of the fact that even at full capacity a few dozen hectares at the most would suffice.

The synergy with tourism could also be exploited due to the fact that the area is already promoted for its territory, the state-owned skiing zones and the presence of two Parks in the same area (Adamello Regional Park and Stelvio National Park) and the existing collaboration between various institutions is a guarantee that this initiative could be linked in to other existing activities.

For these reasons it is considered important to intervene with an initiative aimed at boosting the coordination and development of the small fruit and strawberry production sector.

The goal is to set up activities, necessarily long-term, which can link institutions, some farms and other local organizations, to try to reach an initial critical mass that can take the lead in the organized development of production.

The chosen production model respects the environment and the soil -a natural resource that cannot be reproduced – making ample use of integrated production methods and in any case of methods that do not resort to excessively intensive cultivation.

These demonstration crops require a professional approach from the outset and there is a need to propose development models that do not impact the environment, in line with the sustainable development policies of the Adamello Park.

The plan is to develop a small pilot-demonstration field, in which to produce crops with the essential technical standards for professional development of the activity. The field can be visited by potential stakeholders and serve as a laboratory to gain local experience. So the idea is not to experiment new varieties or new cultivation methods, but to test the best techniques available in local conditions and to have a practical observation and discussion platform, in order to gain local experience and act as a point of reference.

In order to ensure the success of pilot initiatives, technical monitoring of the cultivations are planned, together with local training and promotional initiatives at different levels.

The Adamello Park and the Comunità Montana of Vallecamonica will retain a role in planning and coordinating the activities outlined.

For further information:
Guido Calvi – Adamello Park.
Agronomist