Apple Orchards and the Environment
everyone knows, forests and trees are of vital importance to the
world’s ecosystem, especially in their role of removing carbon dioxide
from the air, and producing oxygen for animals and humans to breath.
But do you know that apple orchards serve our environment in exactly the same way? In fact, an acre of apples will extract about 15 tons of carbon dioxide from the air each year, and produce 6 tons of oxygen too.
So if every person in Ireland were to eat an apple a day, think how much good it would do to the environment. 20,000 acres of apples would be required to produce the annual apple requirement, and this in turn would remove 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the air, and replace it with 120,000 tons of oxygen.
Or, to put it another way, for every apple you eat, the apple tree is producing about 1 hour’s oxygen supply for you as well, and this, of course, is free of charge.
Water heating on our farm
It will come as no surprise
that in order to make apple juice in such a way that it lasts in the
bottle requires pasteurization. On our farm we pasteurize our juice
using hot water. Up to now, we have been using gas and electricity as
our source of hot water, but we have recently added solar energy to
this mix. We have installed Thermomax solar water-heating panels on the
roof of one of our farm buildings, and a special enlarged hot-water
tank to maximise the efficiency of the panels. According to theory, 80%
of our summer-time hot water requirement can be substituted by this
system, (and we will report whether this can be delivered in practice).
This will have the effect of reducing the amount on non-renewable
energy required, both in the manufacture of our apple juice, and the
operation of our camping & caravan park. We hope that you will
enjoy our even-greener (but as tasty as ever) apple juice.
Electricity supply to The Apple Farm
anyone who has purchased our apples at any time beyond October, you are
probably aware that they are kept in refrigerated stores to keep them
fresh. Running these stores requires a considerable amount of
electricity, as does the operation of our electrical fork-lift, and
various other electrical machines on our farm. With the environment in
mind, we have therefore switched to Airtricity from ESB. This
switch means that we are now using wind-generated electricity for all
aspects of our business, and that anyone purchasing our produce can be
satisfied that it is being produced in the most
We have always been very happy with the quality of service offered by ESB, but not entirely satisfied with its environmental credentials. Of special concern are the peat-fired electricity generating plants, which are not very efficient, and are also damaging to peat-land habitats. Also of concern is the coal-fired generating plant in Moneypoint (Co. Clare), which produces cheap electricity, but also contributes to acid rain due to sulphur emissions to the air. Indeed, any form of electricity produced from oil, coal, gas or peat is less than perfect, because they all involve carbon dioxide emissions to the air, and this contributes to climate change and global warming, with the ensuing problems of loss of glaciers and rises in sea level.
The alternatives to fossil fuels are renewable energy sources, and the best available in Ireland is wind energy. While there have been arguments about the problems with wind turbines, having visited sites in the Netherlands, I can say that they are both aesthetically pleasing and very quiet. In fact, that people could object to wind farms in all but the most sensitive of locations seems unbelievable, considering that the alternative is to continue using polluting hydrocarbons that harm the environment for everyone.
Airtircity produces electricity from wind-turbines only. Among its wind-farms are one in Co. Mayo and another offshore farm on the Arklow banks. For a customer wishing to purchase power from Airtricity, it is very simple, because power is still supplied via the ESB network, except that the bill is issued by airtricity for its green electricity, rather than ESB, for its normal electricity mix. By making a switch to wind-generated electricity on our farm, we are reducing Carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere by about 50 tonnes per year, and providing airtricity with the capital to invest in further renewable energy projects. While the domestic (household) user of electricity cannot yet purchase green electricity, we believe that this opportunity should be afforded to them as soon as possible.
Integrated fruit production and integrated pest managementOur farm is run with a strong environmental commitment. To this end fruit is produced using a system called integrated fruit production (IFP). Using this system alternative methods (integrated pest management (lPM) methods) are used to control pests and diseases.
Examples of how pests are controlled are as follows:
These can be sprayed with a naturally occurring virus (Gmnulosis virus) which kills them.
Alternatively, their mating patterns can be upset by using pheromone (sex hormone) lures to attract the males. We use these pheromone lures placed in sticky traps to catch males within our orchard. lf the males and females cannot mate, then there will be no larva to attack the fruits.
Fruit tree red spider mite
These miniature pests suck sap from the apple leaves. However, they can be controlled by maintaining a population of predatory spiders within the orchard. The predator in question is called T.pyri, and we have had these in our orchard since 1993. As long as we do nothing to upset the predator population we needn't worry about the fruit tree red spider mite.
Tortrix moths & winter moths
These can be controlled by spraying with a naturally occurring bacteria; Bacillus thurengiensis (called Bt for short)
Disease control options:
Apple Canker: Prune to remove infected branches
Apple powdery mildew: Remove infected material in May; there should not be any secondary infections thereafter.
Apple scab: Remove all the leaves in Autumn; we do this by spraying falling leaves with urea ( a fertilizer). This causes them to rot, and also encourages worms to chew the leaves. If there are no leaves left by spring-time then new infections can be minimized.
Foodmiles, food and transportFood and Farming campaign group Sustain recently issued a report entitled "Eating Oil: Food supply in a changing climate."
The central argument of this report is that buying food that has had to travel to get to your plate mops up fossil fuel in its transportation and distribution.
Both international and national transportation of food is critisised. Even home-produced food now has to travel twice as far to get to the supermarket shelf compared with 1978. (I have ample experience of this as follows: if I wish to supply apples to any supermarket in Clonmel, they must be delivered to Cork or Dublin depots. This means fruit would have to travel 150 to 250 miles to get from Cahir to Clonmel, an utterly wasteful journey).
In fact, between 33% and 40% of road freight is now due to food being transported.
Sustain argues that this means that the food supply is inefficient and unsustainable.
Take a strawberry for example: An average strawberry might contain 10 calories. However, to fly it here from California takes 200 calories. What a waste of aviation fuel. Even in the case of the much more efficient ocean transport, for every calorie of apple shipped from New Zealand, one calorie of oil is burned in getting it here.
Road transport is of intermediate efficiency. To get an apple from Italy to Ireland by road takes as much energy as to get it from China to Rotterdam by ship.
Of course, none of this is sustainable. Report author Andy Jones has said that the food system has become almost completely dependent on oil. One shopping basket of 26 imported items travelled 241,000km and released as much Carbon Dioxide as would cooking for a family of four for six months.
Sustain said the one way to reduce food miles is by choosing seasonal, home-grown products, and by buying direct from the farmer. On average, this option is 50 times more energy-efficient than purchasing imports.