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300 tons tomatoes per hectare!

By goGreen | May 16, 2012
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MANILA, Philippines — How can vegetable farmers in a desert produce 300 tons of tomatoes in one year per hectare? They don’t have fertile soil and they have only little water, yet the Israeli farmers in Arava , the southernmost part of the Negev desert in Israel, are producing just that.

The amazing feat is the result of technology developed through sustained innovative research and development program, plus an active extension service that keeps the farmers abreast of the latest develop-ments in farming.

The Arava area is sparsely populated. There are only about 600 families in eight settlements consisting of about 3,000 people. Yet, they are able to produce about 150,000 tons of vegetables a year in greenhouses. Most of the vegetables are exported to Europe and elsewhere, accounting for about 60 percent of the total vegetable export of Israel.

Each family usually cultivates five hectares for growing vegetables and other crops like melons, flowers and ornamental plants. One of the first settlers in 1959 is 74-year-old Amnon Navon of the Ein Yahav settlement. He was not even 18 when he arrived in Arava with practically no facilities for farming in the desert. Yet he and other settlers persisted, eventually helped by the government through the initiative of no less than the then Prime Minister Ben Gurion.

Amnon loves desert farming. He has greenhouses on five hectares where he produces mostly peppers and tomatoes. Cultivation is mechanized. He has three tractors to cultivate the soil.

There are only eight workers taking care of the five-hectare farm. These include Amnon himself, his wife Ora and a daughter, and five Thai workers. The Thai workers, he said, are hardworking and uncomplaining. But of course, they are adequately compensated with 22 Shekels per hour. That’s about US$50 per day or $1,500 per month, something they could never dream of receiving in their native country.

Amnon simply concentrates in producing his vegetables. His harvests are marketed by a cooperative. He considers his operation very simple. All he does is produce a good crop which he delivers to the cooperative that markets the vegetables locally and abroad.

Right in Ein Yahav, there is a big packing house that takes care of processing the harvest in the settlement. This is the Gilad Desert Produce Packing House managed by Eyal Sahar. This facility processes anywhere between 60 and 70 tons each day. The one day that they did not operate was when the Thai workers had a holiday in observance of Father’s Day, a holiday for the Thais. The packing house has at least 25 Thai workers.

Fertigation is the key to bumper harvests with very little water in the desert area. This is the use of drippers where water is delivered drop by drop including the appropriate fertilizer in the root zone.

Israel is considered the pioneer in drip irrigation. The biggest drip irrigation company in the world is the Netafim, followed by Jain Irrigation Systems in India, which incidentally has recently acquired another company in Israel, now known as NaandanJain.

In fertigation, the exact amount of water and fertilizer is supplied to the plants. This has several advantages. One is that there is economy in the use of water and fertilizer. Fertigated crops are earlier-maturing. The har-vest is higher, and is of better quality. Fruits are usually sweeter.

Genetics is also very important. Plant breeders in Israel are continually developing new varieties that suit the growing conditions in Israel. These include crops that are not only high-yielding but are also resistant to pests and diseases, tolerant to drought conditions and the like.

Crops are not the only products grown in the Arava area. Fish culture is also flourishing. One example is the Ginat Fish Company that specializes in producing aquarium fish for export. The company produces some 2 million guppies a year which are exported mostly to Europe.

Guppy is a cheap species that comes in many variations. One guppy usually sells for one Euro in Europe. The Ginat family has chosen this cheap fish for their own good reasons. Being cheap, it is one of the favorites of parents who want to give their children something to get busy with. If the fish dies, the parent can readily buy a replacement.

Aquarium fish breeding does not require as much water as the vegetable crops because it is just confined in a small area.

What is also very important in Israel’s success in agriculture is the very active extension service provided by the government. The extension service of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, from the early days, has been responsible in training inexperienced farmers, most of them new immigrants, so that they could produce crops with their limited resources.

The extension service has formed work teams around the country that conduct training, resulting in the pro-fessional advancement of agriculture in very competitive market conditions. The extension service serves public and private interests. There are 14 professional departments, specializing in the various branches of agricultural production. These are complemented by departments which provide professional support such as crop protection, field service for irrigation and fertilization, farm management and production economics, and mechanization and technology.

Production and extension are not the only major players in the agricultural industry in Israel. The Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute is also doing a big contribution to the progress of Israeli agriculture.

This is a non-profit organization founded in 1958 as the Israeli Export Institute by the government and the private sector. The Institute is responsible for the promotion of all kinds of Israel’s exports.

Foreign visitors will witness many of the new developments in agriculture in Israel if they will visit Agritech 2012, the international agricultural exhibition that will be held on May 15-17 in Tel Aviv.


SOURCE: Manila Bulletin

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