N&M: What convinced you to farm organically here in Argentina?
Ernesto: There was not much convincing to do. We were brought up with organic growing, although we did not call it that. My mother and my wife have always maintained a garden, where we never used any chemicals. I regret to admit that there was a short time when we used some chemicals in our orchards in Centenario, when I was a salesperson for Bayer. However, the products, which we were told to sell did not deliver the promised results and so we eventually returned to our traditional way of growing. Eventually, I gave up my sales job, which allowed me to dedicate all my energy to agriculture along with our purchase of virgin land near Anelo. At first we planted it to poplar trees, which was easy to maintain. Eventually some of my children took over the management of Anelo, which allowed us to change to fruit crops.
N&M: You seem to be enthusiastic about this way of farming?
Ernesto: Yes, it is a much nicer way of growing. Apart from not handling chemicals, the people involved in organic farming are usually much friendlier. We have established a good relationship with our European importer and that means a lot to us. Instead of being just one among many suppliers, we appreciate good personal contact.
N&M: That sounds very exciting, but we can imagine that organic growing also has its challenges?
Ernesto: Naturally, where there is light, there is shadow. We do have slightly lower yields in organic, but that does not matter, since our input costs are also lower. What concerns us more is that organic fruit does not always look as nice as conventional fruit, thus, cosmetic reasons causes a higher amount of secondary fruit. We hope that consumers will eventually come to understand what the real benefits of organic growing are and be more accepting. - Instead of using artificial input products we now employ more workers who always bring their issues with them. That causes some headaches at times, but in the end it is well worth it.
N&M: How did your neighbours respond to your choice to grow organically?
Ernesto: Well they may have been the most difficult challenge. Getting them to spray their chemicals at a time when the wind is not blowing towards our farm, but in the opposite direction was a lot of work and required a real effort on my part and my family. Yet, despite their spraying chemicals, they could not control ‘carpo capsa’ a nasty pest in fruit production. We have used pheromone traps now for several years and have the problem pretty much under control, but we constantly get reinvested from our neighbours. This year we have tried putting out more traps to get this issue better under control.
N&M: Have you tried convincing your neighbours of the benefits of organic growing?
Ernesto: Of course, but everybody has his or her ideas. Changing other people is not easy, so we focus on our family. I was fortunate to have inherited the farm from my father. I have contributed as much as I can to the farm and now I am trying to do my best to pass it on to the next generation. Our success is based on the fact that we have always reinvested in the farm and its people. I shall be happy, if our way of growing inspires other people to do the same. We can only change ourselves.