The Kindelbrücker Obstbau eG grows apples on 250 hectares. Other crops that grow well here in Thuringia are cherries, plums, hops, strawberries and asparagus. Thanks to good soil conditions and the favourable climate, the cooperative is amongst the largest fruit and asparagus producers in Thuringia.The members of the cooperative use top technology for production and promote regionalism in marketing.
The apple trees are in full bloom on the slopes that start right at the edge of the village of Kindelbrück. They glow in pink and white. There is a fantastic view over the area from up here. Fruit trees as far as the eye can see. “Some 1,800 to 4,200 apple trees, depending on the variety, grow on each of the 250-hectare apple orchards of our fruit growers’ cooperative,” explains Steffen Lause. As he speaks, he walks along the rows of trees and checks the hoses of the trickle irrigation system, which runs along the trunks of the trees. Overall, there are about 750,000 apple trees here.
It is almost beyond imagination just how big the mountain of apples would be that is harvested from these trees every year. Depending on the variety and location, about 25 to 56 tonnes of apples are harvested per hectare, totalling some 10,000 tonnes. Jonagold, Boskoop, Elstar, Gala, Pilot, Pirella or Golden Delicious – these are only a few of the 14 apple varieties. They are amongst the most popular ones today.“On average, the trees are cleared every 15 years and saplings are planted in their place. However, this is not due to declining yield. The old ones would continue to bring in a good harvest for many years. The reason is that there is a demand for new varieties. And we have to serve the market,” he explains, those are economic aspects that our cooperative must take into consideration.
As the technical manager, Steffen Lause is responsible for the company’s fleet and therefore for the tractors in the orchards. Since 2010, a Fendt 211 Vario P and, for a good year now, a Fendt 211 Vario F have been in operation here. They supplement the fleet of 16 Fendt tractors from the 200 series, three Fendt 300 and one high-horsepower tractor from Fendt. Fendt tractors have had a tradition in the cooperative since 1993 and are used for arable farming. Overall, 22 machines that average 800 to 1,300 work hours per year are in operation here.
The cutting-edge technology that is used to apply fertiliser and pesticides and perform other maintenance work on the trees alone is not enough to secure the success of the company. The climate and the soil specifics also play an important role. Heavy mineral soils from loamy clay to clayey loam and loess, precipitation at about 480 mm per year and an average annual temperature of 9.6 degrees Celsius give the fruit from the lower section of the Wipper River an unmistakable aroma. The entire production process is run according to the criteria of controlled integrated cultivation.
Intensive maintenance work on the trees plays an important role. These include cutting back the shoots in the winter. The apple trees are trimmed with pneumatic and electric shears and limited to a height of 2.50 metres.
Bees are indispensable helpers for fruit farmers. “We have set up many “hotels” for wild bees and have closed contracts with regional beekeepers, who come and set up their bee boxes when the trees are flowering in the orchards,” reports Volker Dittmann, Chairman of the cooperative. While speaking, he points out the bamboo poles with holes in them that have been placed between the rows of trees. The insects can lay their eggs here. Wild bees are so important for fruit production, because they will leave their hives at lower temperatures than bees from cultivated colonies. They are already active at 5 to 6 °C and pollinate the flowers, while honeybees will only leave the apiary at about 10°C.
There are an estimated 20,000 species of bees in the world. Of these, about 700 species are found in Europe and 500 of them in Germany. Some 4,000 bees must work a whole summer long for a kilo of honey. About 40,000 to 80,000 bees live in a beehive.
The queen is a third bigger than the worker bees. On average, she lives to be six years old. During this time, she lays up to one million eggs. The worker bees only live about six weeks. They take care of young bees and the queen. They keep the beehive clean, build honeycombs and search for food.
In Germany, there are currently more than 80,000 beekeepers and about a million bee colonies.
“Our company philosophy is regionalism”, emphasises the chairman. All of our products therefore carry the badge “Original Thuringian Quality”. In addition to fruit production, the company cultivates a good 600 hectares of market fruits and an additional 80 hectares of hops, asparagus and walnuts.The company has a storage and cooling hall with a capacity of 8,000 tonnes, which permits fresh fruit to be delivered to stores over the entire year. That makes it possible to supply purchasers, such as Edeka and Aldi, continuously with fresh fruit in the winter months. Not all fruit, however, is placed in storage. Of all the apples harvested, about 80 percent enter the market immediately through the Obst und Gemüsemarkt Thüringen GmbH sales company or are sold to regular customers in the small farm store.
“Short paths from the producer to the consumer guarantee freshness and benefit the environment.That applies to all of our products,” continues Dittmann. The cooperative has been producing fruit for 50 years. The region has a tradition of fruit growing. That this know-how literally carries fruit becomes clear when looking at the cooperative’s future plans, which include expanding their area for apple production to 280 hectares.