Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

21 Shevat 5761 - Febuary 14, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Agricultural Revolution
by C. Ofek

Though Hashem is certainly the ultimate control of success in everything and especially agriculture, Israeli agribusiness is doing extensive hishtadlus and revolutionary changes in current Israeli agriculture stem from the accelerated development of research in the various fields of agriculture. The continuing water crisis is putting intense pressure on agriculture, including some calls to phase out certain crops like cotton and citrus which use a lot of water, but the Israeli agriculture industry is working hard to give answers.

Advanced methods of irrigation and the study of the precise needs of various crops have led to more efficient use of water. In addition, cotton crops and various strains of avocado and mango have been introduced, along with "plasti- culture" for growing plants underneath plastic coverings. Since the introduction of plasti-culture, fruits and vegetables which ripen naturally in the summer may also be made to ripen in the winter.

These innovations have brought about a revolution in Israeli agriculture, which doubles its produce each 10-15 years -- amazingly -- using about the same quantities of water and land. Today's farmers produce double the harvest of ten years ago with no increase in water usage.

Research and development have led to the introduction of previously unknown species to Israel's agricultural repertoire, including avocado, mango, cotton, and kiwi. The R & D has also enabled off-season growth of various crops, enabling export of summer produce such as tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, melons and flowers to Europe during the winter when there is a great demand for such produce.

One example out of many in which the rapid implementation of knowledge developed by research proved effective, is the growing of the dwarf carnation. This flower wasn't grown intensively in Israel until 1970. However, professional economic studies showed that Israel had a great advantage over other countries in the cultivation of this type of flower which requires intense light and thus cannot grow in Europe during the winter season.

One of the main factors which limited the success of this flower was the presence of viruses harming flower quality. In light of this, an extensive project to cultivate the dwarf carnations began in Israel. Studies conducted in the Vulcani Center developed virus-free plants which excelled in the level of their yield and the quality of the flowers. Rapid implementation of these findings, the adoption of modern fertilizing methods, and development of a marketing system brought results in 3-4 years. This thriving branch currently exports 350 million flowers a year!

An additional example of a crop previously unknown in the Mediterranean region is the avocado, which was brought from Central America and adapted successfully to Israel, where it has become one of the country's leading exports.

Israeli agricultural produce that was exported to Europe thirty years ago originated from off-season undercover crops grown under plastic sheets. But the success of the export of fresh, off-season produce to the European market was contingent to a great extent upon the quality of the produce once it reached the European markets. Thus, the fruit's ripening process and its rate of spoilage after harvest were subject to intense study.

Despite the great success of the marketing of Israel agricultural produce to the European market, difficult problems cropped up. Each fruit or vegetable sent to Europe spurred competitors to copy the exported item. Only a short time passed -- 6-8 years for vegetables and 10 years in the flower business -- until farmers in Spain, Portugal, and North Africa began to grow and market the very same produce developed in Israel, such as melons, peppers, strawberries and cloves, even when these were special strains that were originally developed in Israel, such as the Galia melon. Recently there has been extensive planting of avocado in Spain, for example.

Spain especially, enjoys a basic advantage over Israel due to its proximity to the rest of Europe. Israeli produce has to travel from packaging house to port to European port -- and from there to wholesale markets. The Spanish grower on the other hand, merely trucks his produce directly to French or German markets.

In light of this situation, new considerations in the policies of agricultural research and development in Israel have come into play. The first to be considered was the fact that the market life of a new product is limited, since a new product immediately spurs potential competitors to imitation. Policy makers had to take into account that the period in which Israeli growers can have an exclusive on vegetables and flowers meant for export as fresh produce, lasts no more than eight years, while the exclusive period of new fruits is a bit longer and can last up to ten.

It is a good idea, then to develop new fruits and vegetables to fill-in for existing ones that will become less profitable. That is easier to achieve with flowers and house plants than with fruits and vegetables. The possibilities of diversification in flowers are nearly unlimited. Unique strains of citrus fruits, and perhaps peaches and apples, by means of new methods such as the growing of fruits in nurseries could also prove advantageous.

Every year, 450 million dollars worth of agricultural products -- mainly fodder seeds, wheat, and oil seeds -- are brought in to Israel. Animal feed in Israel, both in the barn and in the chicken coop, is based mainly on imported materials. As a result, extensive research has been invested in seeking alternatives for these imports. Concomitantly, researchers are studying new methods of mechanization in order to improve the efficiency of agricultural work as well as to promote additional export branches and agricultural systems.

Foreign markets are currently displaying a demand for Israel- developed automated, computer-controlled irrigation systems. In the future, increased harvest ratios will be in the hands of those with hi tech knowledge.


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