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Agriculture and Science

water-technology

The arid desert regions of Israel and the scarcity of water resources have provided a challenge for centuries. Israeli scientists have been hard at work to find ways to conserve water and to utilize the vast Negev region for agricultural developments.

The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs tackles the agricultural challenges of Israel, a small, arid country with a scarce supply of fresh water. As Israel enters its 7th decade, immigration is on the rise, along with water, food, and energy consumption. In addition, some of Israel's arable land is being used for housing. Israel's farmers and scientists are working to modernize, adapt, and innovate to be able to meet the needs of Israel's citizens and economy now and in the future.

Israel devotes much of its research and manpower resources to two major sectors: Water conservation and Negev development. Because fresh water is hard to come by in Israel, the agritech industry is constantly working to develop alternatives to fresh water, as well as to conserve the fresh water that exists. Israel has been at the forefront of innovations both in the use of brackish and recycled water to irrigate crops and grow feed, and in the use of drip irrigation. The Negev, which comprises a large percentage of Israel's land, is starting to be recognized as a viable, cultivatable region, and research is developing methods to grow crops, for both local use and export, in the area.

Green Giants

Drip irrigation, the irrigation system which conserves water by allowing the water to drip slowly to the plants' roots, has revolutionized modern agriculture. Although drip irrigation has been used since ancient times, the modern technology was invented by an Israeli agronomist, Simcha Blass, in the 1960's. The company founded by Blass, Netafim, is the world's largest company in the field of irrigation solutions, and drip irrigation is one of the main focuses of the company. The water technologies pioneered by Netafim are designed to increase crop yield and quality while preserving both the quantity and quality of water. Netafim is currently developing a low-pressure irrigation system for use in areas where high pressure systems cannot be used. In addition, Netafim is adding to the "greening" of Israeli technology by working to develop alternative fuel sources. Plastro Irrigation Systems, also Israeli-based, is Netafim's biggest competitor. Plastro was recently acquired by John Deere, the American agricultural machinery giant.

Blooming Business

Israel's colorful, exotic flowers should be very grateful to Israel's gray, recycled water. Israel's flower industry is booming, the success of which is very much dependent on the ability to grow summer flowers all year long, and then export those flowers to Europe, especially during the winter months. The Negev desert in Israel is particularly advantageous for flower growing because it is sunny nearly the entire year.

One agricultural advance that has made this industry a success is in the careful use of water. About 30% (the number is expected to rise) of the water used for crops is recycled sewage water that has gone through a cleansing process—the result of which is "gray water." Consequently, farmers are using far less fresh water than in the past, but obtaining an equal or even greater yield. Farmers have also cultivated strains of peppers and tomatoes that thrive in the salty water from the Dead Sea. And no drop of water is ever wasted—overspill is gathered and reused, so that fresh water sources are tapped only when absolutely necessary.

The Self-Watering Rhubarb

www.israel21c.org reports that Israeli scientists have discovered a rare plant in the Negev (southern desert) region of Israel. The desert rhubarb is essentially able to water itself. It has thick, waxy leaves that are designed in such a way that even the most miniscule amount of water finds its way promptly to the plant's roots. The leaves essentially act as a funnel for the plant, which can collect up to sixteen times more water than neighboring plants. Professor Simcha Lev-Yadun, one of the researchers, was asked if this plant could become the ultimate irrigation system for this arid country. While the professor himself said he has no plans to develop anything, he does not rule out the possibility of someone else jumping on the technology.

Desert as Farmland

Perhaps the only ones not happy about the increase in immigration to Israel are the melons. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), only 17% of Israel's land is arable, and the percentage is shrinking as more and more farmland is being used for housing. As a consequence, the desert areas of Israel between Beer Sheva and Eilat, known as the Arava and the Negev, are becoming increasingly used for agriculture. Because of the year-round warm, sunny climate in the region, crops such as citrus fruits and flowers can be grown and then exported to Europe in the winter. "Greening" the Negev is becoming a focus. At a moshav on the Egyptian border, the cattle are fed food grown with recycled water from fish tanks. Farmers and scientists are also experimenting with arid soil plants brought from other desert regions in the world.

Ohio and Israel: Partners in Agriculture

Back in the 1980's, a Cleveland CEO, and the head of the JNF (Jewish National Fund) in Ohio, decided to get together and fulfill David Ben-Gurion's goal of cultivating the Negev region. They formed the Negev Foundation, which at first was a philanthropic organization dedicated to help develop the Negev region, but soon began promoting business initiatives and sharing Israel's cutting-edge desert technology with other countries.

The new Ramat Negev Desert AgroResearch Center (RNDARC) was recently established to experiment with desert-grown crops. Among the projects funded at RNDARC are hothouses which experiment with technologies such as bee pollination and drip irrigation, and a solar greenhouse. Research continues into the use of brackish water to grow crops, a crucial development which relieves the demand placed on Israel's scarce fresh water sources.

With thanks to www.israel21c.org, a site dedicated to spreading the word about the "other" Israel—not the Israel of suicide bombing and disputed walls, but the Israel of technological advances, innovations, and contributions to the betterment of the world.

Landscape photo of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock in the foreground.

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