Article from AT - Agriculture in Trentino (7/2019)
Ilario Ioriatti, a reference figure and historical memory, has seen and experienced the evolution of berries in the province of Trento.
After attending school in S. Michele for 5 years, he became a technician for minor crops at ESAT, Ente per lo Sviluppo dell'Agricoltura Trentina, and later became director of the Sant'Orsola Small Fruit Growers Association until 2005. He is now a nursery grower.
ILARIO IORIATTI: THE BEGINNINGS
Let's start at the beginning. Traditionally, and still in Ilario's childhood years, the berries were exclusively those obtained through spontaneous harvesting because they were not yet considered plants for cultivation. Families and children mainly collected blueberries, as well as porcini mushrooms, and the proceeds were often used to buy school books. One day, when Ilario was still a child, his uncle Silvio Bernardi planted raspberry seedlings in the garden, which he had received from a friend returning from Holland.
When they practically became pests, he also gave the fruits to his mother, Ida, who one day in 1972 decided to sell the surplus in a shoebox to Zeni Ortofrutta di Baselga di Piné. There, mother Ida learned that the raspberries were sold for a fortune in Verona, and she immediately sensed the opportunity to make money. Is it a coincidence that Ida's name is similar to the scientific name of the raspberry, Rubus idaeus? Nomen omen, that's what Hilary believes, a true omen.
Initially, the cultivation of berries in Trentino began as a co-evolutionary process, so to speak, at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s. We must remember the private initiatives of three families, Serafini, Mosca and Alessandrini, all revolving around the Tenna hill. Serafini's wife was from Bassano, and at the market she had noticed that there was a shortage of strawberries in the plain in July because the season was over. Hence the idea of cultivating at altitude to have produce in July.
The 1970s were probably a ripe time for the development of the fresh berries market. A number of almost simultaneous, albeit unrelated, initiatives started up in various parts of Trentino (Valsugana, Val di Cembra, Coredo, Vigolo Vattaro, Bleggio, Lomaso). Some design impulses soon died out, others grew and developed. In the 1968-80s, production was largely in favour of the Zipperle company in Merano, which produced fruit juices and therefore had a strong demand for blackcurrants and sour cherries. This commercial outlet became a dead end when the company decided to delocalise and move production to what was then Yugoslavia.
In 1973, Ilario's parents also planted 400 square metres of plants for the production of raspberries. The first hesitations at that time were given by the uncertainty of being able to sell the product. It was only known that there was a demand for raspberries from Lazzaretti to make raspberry or strawberry juice and from ice-cream shops in tourist areas such as Riva del Garda.
In 1974 the Ioriatti family comes into contact with Luciano Mattivi, starting a 'competitive' collaboration that will develop in the years to come with Ilario. The group was joined by Mariano Avi who planted raspberries in '75. Initially, Ioriatti, Mattivi and Avi gave production to Moscow, which had gone from being a producer to a trader. A great credit must be given to Dr. Pallaoro, PAT official for fruit growing and to Dr. Zanoni, his head of service, who worked hard to develop these new crops so much so that the first provincial funding began.
1973: THE ASSOCIATION WAS BORN
In 1973 the Association of Agricultural Manufacturers was born, which would later become the Association of Agricultural Manufacturers S.c.ar.l. in '79 when there will be an obligation to have VAT registration. From 1973 to 1982 the APA's chief operating officer was Sergio Paoli of Viarago, aided by the right-hand man Federico Oss of Canzolino di Pergine. Significantly, even then the activity of the association was not limited to the pure sale of fruit, but also that it dealt with the distribution of plants and other means of production, with a strong push to the involvement of new producers.
At first we leaned on the apple warehouses, mostly in Caldonazzo and the biggest customers were Slomp Renzo and Luciano of Lavis; then finally the company manages to build its first warehouse on land of the ASUC of S.Orsola.
THE 1980S FROM DIFFICULTY TO EARLY SUCCESSES
St Ursula's beginnings were difficult, the year '83 seemed to put an end to it because berries was considered a minor crop. There was a weekly sales cycle, and they were bought by consumers mostly towards the weekend, to make desserts and fruit salads. They were very difficult to produce, but above all to store and sell, because they were seasonal and extremely perishable.
1985 was the year of the turning point thanks to the discovery of the re-flowering strawberries. They were bought in April in Holland and harvested from July to October. At the end of August, however, the first advance payment was given to the growers to finance the expenses in a sort of microcredit. In this way many farmers were able to produce strawberries, often in addition to or alongside other crops.
Producing berries was beginning to work because it was a crop that was also suitable for part time and gave economic satisfaction. In 1980 it was Andrea, Ilario's brother, who planted 2,000 square meters of blackberries in Civezzano and became the first full-time producer of berries. In the same years then Paoli and Oss succeeded in importing from France the re-blooming variety of Heritage raspberries, which guaranteed a long and quality production with firm fruit to be picked without stalks. St. Ursula in this way managed to grow exponentially and by the late 1980s it already passed to have 600 members.
THE 1990S; NEW MARKETS AND NEW CROPS
After raspberries and strawberries, currants began to be produced in the 1990s and Dallabrida of Vigolo Vattaro in particular invested in their cultivation. When the giant blueberry arrived from America, it was appreciated and cultivated above all in Val di Cembra. Over the years, the main competitor was Piedmont, which, however, produced for the industry and had difficulty converting to fresh produce, unlike Trentino which did so immediately and became the market leader in Italy in the 1990s.
Another competitor over the years has been South Tyrol with Val Martello, the only area that could supply strawberries in August. A new moment of crisis coincided with the strong investments of St. Ursula who was building the new warehouse in Zhivignago.
In 1992 the first liberalisation of the European fruit and vegetable markets took place and in a moment Italian importers of Dutch and Belgian strawberries went from three to a hundred. To try to solve, Ioriatti and Mactive have the idea of introducing a unique strawberry variety, the Elsanta, with excellent taste and good preservation.
The plants were kept in the fridge and planted in order to lengthen the production season. Mactive senses the potential of off-ground cultivation,which is then successful, which allows to do the rotation by changing only the substrate. The advantages are many: it saves time of replanting, there is greater processing convenience and you maintain the tunnels anti-pipe (the only way to make quality fruits and with less residue). Finally, it is decided to train new specialized technicians by product.
Inthe first half of the 1990s, the real modernisation and sale to large-scale distribution began, with the supermarkets themselves requesting berries. This is how the history of berries in Trentino started. Over time things evolved in other directions with the birth of new initiatives and the introduction of other fruits such as cherry; but that is another story.