Agriculture in Israel

Print this page Print this page

"Everything is strong: the heat is strong and the colors are strong,'' Eran Ettner, one of Israel's desert farmers. "When a storm comes, it comes like a tornado for two or three hours and then it is quiet.''           

Ettner grows peppers in the Arava valley, which runs along the Israel-Jordanian border from the southern tip of the Dead Sea to Eilat. The region has become one of the most fruitful for Israeli farmers, who have learned to use the high level of sun radiation and the dry weather to grow some of the juiciest vegetables you'll ever taste.

In total, about 60 percent of the country's vegetable exports come from the Arava region. In addition to peppers, the Arava is also known for its melons and flowers. The methods have been so successful, that Israel has exported its agriculture technology to places like Morocco and Egypt, even though they're potential rivals for sales to Europe.

The Jewish National Fund (JNF) has played a critical role in the success of desert agriculture, funding the preparation of 2,000 dunams (8,000 acres) a year for use. The JNF also subsidizes research and development stations that focus on improving Israeli technology.

That's one of the factors that helped the farmers figure out a way to make do without a critical agricultural resource that the country sorely lacks: sweet water. With rain falling only about five months out of the year, precipitation has always been a life-and-death issue in the holy land. It's been so critical, that the rabbis who designed the prayer liturgy inserted a prayer for rain to be repeated three times daily starting at the end of Sukkot--the beginning of the rainy season--through Passover.

In the desert, though, farmers have realized that if they want to thrive, prayers aren't enough. Uri Yogev had been cultivating orchards of peaches and plums for three years on Kibbutz Revivim in the southern Negev when he realized that there wasn't enough fresh water to make the fruits profitable. So he decided to turn to a more plentiful natural resource in the region: the underground salt-water aquifers.

"It was clear to us we had to concentrate on salt water, because that's what exists here,'' he said. "Everyone knew there was salt water but no one knew what to do with it.''

A Romantic Vision Realized

A member of the kibbutz suggested that Yogev use the brackish water to try growing olive trees--even though olives are traditionally grown in climates where rain is plentiful and the soil is rich. The results were better than they could have imagined. In five years the kibbutz now boasts the largest grove of olive trees in Israel. Yielding about 200 tons of award winning olive oil a year, the orchard is the only one in the world where olives are cultivated with salt water. "Salt has created very big and very successful trees,'' Yogev said.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Joshua Mitnick is a freelance journalist living in Israel. His articles have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Newsday, The Toronto Star, The Newark Star Ledger, and The Washington Times.