Without bees, there wouldn’t be any apples
by Julia Klotz
Gala, Jonagold, Elstar or Boskoop: The apple orchards of Alexander Krings in Rheinbach are home to everyone’s favourite type of apple – and many animals. The REWE partner shows that environmental commitment can go hand in hand with financial success: a visit on site.
“That will be a good harvest!” says orchardist Alexander Krings, satisfied with the trees on his orchard in Rheinbach near Bonn. Rows of trees with crisp red apples can be seen as far as the eye can see. A few metres further, three women and two men skilfully pick ripe fruit from the trees. With plenty to do, more than 50 harvesters have been hard at work since mid-August. Across a total area of 150 hectares, Alexander Krings cultivates eleven different apple varieties, and all are thriving magnificently. The orchardist supplies, for example, apples to REWE with the Pro Planet label. “Without bees and insects, it would be an entirely different story down the line,” says Krings.
After all, what many consumers do not know is that bees and other pollinating insects are essential for fruit and vegetable production. The bees fly to flowers to collect nectar. In the process, pollen sticks to their fine hairs. With this pollen, they fertilise the next flower they visit. Bees therefore ensure the survival and yield of all types of fruit. Many orchards today, however, are now designed so that flowers and flowering plants have no more room to thrive – and insects no more food.
A different approach can be seen at the orchards of Alexander Krings. Just a few metres away from the seemingly endless rows of apple trees lies broad strip of meadow with poppy seeds, clover, sunflower and other wild plants and grasses of the region. If you listen closely, you can hear the buzzing and chirping of insects, with butterflies fluttering from flower to flower. “Some people may think they look like they grow randomly,” says Krings, “but we have provided flowering areas as extra – they provide insects with protection and food.” To ensure optimal living conditions for the falcons, he has also created nesting aids in the fields, as these birds keep voles and pests on the orchard in check.
Until recently, there were no such measures. The impetus came through the REWE Group. When it developed the Pro Planet label in 2009 to offer its customers products from more sustainable cultivation and approached producers with this idea, the Rheinbach-based apple producer was more than happy to take part as the pilot company. “We initially looked at where the main problems lie with apple growing,” explains Dr Josef Lüneburg-Wolthaus, responsible for sustainability as part of strategic quality assurance of the REWE Group. Wild growing flowers and other flowering plants, such as those found for example in fruit meadows, are largely lacking in modern apple cultivation. This has dramatic consequences for biodiversity – but long-term of course also for the producer because quality and quantity harvested directly depend on the variety of pollinators,” says Lüneburg-Wolthaus. After all, the more nature suffers, the harder it is to get resources. Fruit meadows in turn do not yield enough to provide the metropolitan regions in particular with apples. Each German eats a whole 17 kg of them per year on average.
Therefore, the REWE Group has brought orchardists from the Lake Constance region, the Altes Land, Rhineland, the Neckar region, Rheinhessen, Brandenburg, Saxony and Thuringia together with local representatives of the German Nature Conservation Federation (NABU). “Our goal is to develop conventional agriculture and sustainability together,” summarises Lüneburg-Wolthaus. Today, hundreds of orchardists are involved in the project throughout Germany. “Meanwhile, farmers have come to us of their own accord,” says Lüneburg-Wolthaus.
Alexander Krings has also rethought his approach. “In the past, we have only looked at the yield. Today, we grow fruit in the region with a view to the next few decades. The more farmers join us, the better,” concludes the young entrepreneur. In the next few weeks, he wants to put up signs next to his cultivation areas that explain the varieties of his apples – and also why wild meadows grow alongside the orchards.
This is to deter the many cyclists or walkers who would rather see the pretty flowers in a vase. However, he does not want to impose a ban, preferring instead to educate passers-by. “I thought of a sign that says, ‘Their food grows here’. Without the bees, the fruit will stop growing in the future.”