When Thomas Hafner used to talk about organic farming in the past, some just shook their heads: it’s only something for hobby gardeners. These days, South Tyrol is Europe’s largest producer of organic apples and that is partly down to Thomas.
In 1986, aged just 18, Thomas inherited his father’s farm – the Sonnleitenhof in Terlan/Terlano. As early as 1991 he switched to organic farming. “I've always been very interested in organic cultivation. I have worked hard at it and invested a lot of time,” says the co-founder and former vice chair of the Bioland Association.
It’s the end of the 1990s. There are only a few organic farmers in Italy. Thomas is one of around 20 full-time South Tyrolean farmers who are engaged in organic cultivation. Together they travel to Innsbruck, attend agricultural ecology lectures and meet the first pioneers of organic farming at Lake Constance. Bioland Bavaria accepted the South Tyroleans as a regional group at the time. A few years later later they established their own regional association. The history of the South Tyrol Bioland Association takes its course.
Today, Thomas is not only an organic farmer but he also tries again and again to create ecological niches in his apple orchards in Terlano/Terlan and Eppan/Appiano, has created ponds in every meadow, and planted peach and cherry trees as well as willows and hazelnut bushes around the edges. Hedges line boundaries, tall trees for birds of prey and migratory birds are a must, and sowing in autumn and spring enlivens the soil and provides habitats for useful insects.
“Before the harvest you can’t avoid mulching – in other words, mowing - and even as an organic farmer, there is not much I can do about that.” Farming sustainably and living sustainably both mean a lot to Thomas. Together with his family – his wife and two daughters – he wants to implement new ideas for sustainability in the future.