"Without the Negev, how could anyone imagine Zionism? And without agriculture, how could anyone survive in the Negev?" Haim Levi, head of the Eshkol Regional Council, was speaking at a ceremony on Thursday, February 17, at the annual Open Day Agricultural Exhibition of the Besor Research and Development Station in the western Negev, which attracted visitors from all over Israel, including many farmers from the Palestinian Authority and neighboring Arab countries.
The Minister of Agriculture, Ms. Orit Noked, said that Open Day at the Southern R&D was a real celebration: "Israel is world-famous for its cutting-edge agricultural developments, many of which are the result of research carried out right here. I have always felt that research and development is one of the main foundations of Israeli agriculture. Unfortunately, the general public is not always aware of all the effort and investment that goes into producing the incredible fruits, vegetables and flowers that Israel grows both for domestic use and also for export.
"The R&Ds are responsible for translating academic research into the language of everyday farming. It is the cooperation between different governmental and non-governmental organizations that has made our efforts so successful. I would especially note the collaboration between the Ministry of Agriculture and KKL-JNF as an example of how two organizations can work together for the benefit of Negev settlement. As minister of agriculture, my intention is not only to continue supporting agricultural research and development, but to increase it, as this is the key to our ability to continue living in the Negev, Israel's greatest frontier."
Ami Uliel, director of KKL-JNF's Southern Region, welcomed everyone on behalf of KKL-JNF and the KKL-JNF World Chairman, Mr. Efi Stenzler: "KKL-JNF was originally founded in order to redeem the land of Israel and to ensure that it remains the property of the Jewish people. The best keepers of our lands are our farmers. In order for them to be able to survive in this region, they must be able to make a living and to compete in international markets, and it is the R&Ds that give them the tools to accomplish this.
"The settlement of the Negev is at the top of the KKL-JNF priority list. This year, we are completing three new communities in Halutziot – Naveh, Bnei Netzarim and Shlomit. We are also completing a very important project, together with the Ministry of Defense – repairing and rebuilding security roads that were damaged during Operation Cast Lead. I would like to express our appreciation of the amazing work being done at the Besor R&D, and to thank Myron Sofer, director of the R&D, and all his staff, for organizing this incredible exhibition of Israel's agricultural achievements. I can assure you that KKL-JNF will continue to be a full partner to your efforts in the future, just as we have in the past."
Haim Levi noted that Israel's research and development stations are actually agricultural start-ups: "Agricultural research is critical, but the difference between the R&D stations and academic studies is that R&Ds provide farmers with the practical information that enables them to put the research to practical use in the field. It is the R&Ds that make it possible for people to live in the Negev and earn a livelihood. We work together with KKL-JNF, which finances 50% of the budgets of all of Israel's R&Ds. It’s a very successful partnership, because one of KKL-JNF's main goals is to help set up new communities all over Israel, especially in faraway regions like the Negev. Without agriculture in regions like ours, no one could live here. I would also mention the need for water. We are dependent on purified water that is piped here from Israel's central region and on the KKL-JNF water reservoirs, and without water, no one could live here."
Myron Sofer, director of the Besor R&D, noted that the modern farmer must be a biologist, chemist, botanist, physicist, economist and marketing expert, just to mention a few of the skills he or she needs: "It is the R&D's job to serve as the interface between the various fields of expertise that modern agriculture demands and the farmer. The accessibility of people who are professionals in their fields, availability of research, in-the-field guidance and one-day conferences are part of how the Besor R&D meets the needs of western Negev farmers."
The KKL-JNF booth
at the agricultural fair attracted many visitors, providing maps and information about activities in nature in the region, specifically focusing on the "Scarlet South" festival taking place in the western Negev during the month of February. This is the perfect time to visit this region, which, thanks to seasonal rains, is transformed into a lush tapestry of green carpets dotted with red anemones, which lend the festival its name. Driving, hiking or biking on the roads and trails of the western Negev at this time of the year is an unforgettable experience, and the devoted KKL-JNF team at the agricultural fair made certain that everyone interested was provided all the information necessary to take full advantage of this once-in-a-year opportunity.
We joined Mickey Kaplan, the KKL-JNF person responsible for Israel's R&Ds, Gershon Avni, from KKL-JNF's Land Development Division and Itzik Moshe, deputy director of KKL-JNF's Southern Region and chairman of the board of the Besor R&D, for a tour of the exhibition and to see some of the impressive agricultural innovations developed at the R&D. Next to a greenhouse devoted to research on flowers, we saw a prominent plaque thanking the Shafran family of Vancouver, Canada, who contributed towards agricultural research. Mickey explained: "We are very grateful to the Shafran family for their support. Not everyone wants to support research, which seems somewhat abstract and isn't like a forest or a water reservoir that they can come and see. It is very heartwarming when one of our friends abroad realizes that without research, none of our other accomplishments would be possible, and we very much hope that in the future, others will follow in their footsteps."
Mickey continued, providing background information on KKL-JNF's involvement in Israel's R&Ds: "If not for KKL-JNF, the R&D stations would s
imply not exist. We filled a vacuum that was created when the Settlement Department of the Jewish Agency decided to stop funding the R&Ds. There is a KKL-JNF representative at every R&D who is involved in decision making and the R&D's daily activities. Each R&D is an independent entity that prepares an annual work plan, concentrating on what crops to encourage, sophisticated agricultural innovations, the market and shelf life, to mention just some of what we focus on. And maybe most importantly, thanks to KKL-JNF, all this information is provided to the farmers absolutely free of charge." Peppers and Tomatoes in the Negev
One of the first vegetables to be adapted to the unique soil and climate of the western Negev was peppers. The first seeds were brought from Holland, and after experiments with forty different species, four were found to be suitable. Today, greenhouses that originally produced about ten tons of peppers per dunam now yield up to twenty or twenty-five tons per dunam, a worldwide achievement. We
saw an experiment that the R&D is conducting to determine the effects of providing the peppers with nitrogen by introducing it into the water used to irrigate them. Different rows of peppers in the greenhouse were given various amounts of nitrogen, the goal being not to chemically pollute the soil and underground aquifer, and to lessen the amount of nitrogen that needs to be used thanks to more efficient usage.
Tomatoes of all sorts and shapes are also one of the Negev's main crops, and the R&D never stops creating new colors and tastes of tomatoes, along with planning harvests for those times of year when this popular vegetable is not available abroad. In one of the hothouses, we met Carlos Esquiel from Guatemala and Jorge Delgado from Panama. "We are both studying agriculture in Honduras," Jorge told us, "and this is our first visit to Israel. As future agricultural researchers, this exhibition is fascinating for us. It is really amazing to see all the varieties of tomatoes that you have managed to grow in this desert."Cold-Loving Peones Take Root in the Hot Negev Desert
Dr. Rina Kamenetsky, professor of plant physiology at the Volcani Center, is very proud of the success she and her team have had growing beautiful peones in the western Negev: "This is a flower that loves cold and is grown in Holland in the cool months preceding the Dutch summer. We wanted to grow them during our winter, so that we would be able to market them in Europe during a time of the year when they are not available. We developed various methods of providing the flowers with the degree of cold they are used to, including special growing platforms that allow the farmers to move the flowers to refrigerators a few hours every day. In off-season, the farmers earn between one and two euros for each flower!" Lettuce – Composting Methods
Dr. Elisha Kenig has been working over the past few years with growing lettuce in
various sorts of platforms rather than planting the vegetable directly in the earth. In the Negev, where water and fertile soil are scarce, this allows for better control of irrigation and a significant decrease in water loss. At the same time, open fields are still the first choice for growing lettuce, so the R&D station has a special field to determine exactly what amount and sort of compost is best for growing lettuce in this region. The ability to exactly determine the compost needs of the crop makes it possible to save money and sell the lettuce at more competitive prices.Decreasing Moisture and Disease in Greenhouses
"One of the biggest problems we have with growing crops in greenhouses rather than in open fields is the expense of fuel to maintain the desired temperature, and excessive moisture that causes various diseases to develop on the plants," said Dr. Avi Arbel, who, together with his team, has developed an integrated heating and drying system for greenhouses. "This system enables us to maintain a consistent temperature in the greenhouse, cut moisture drastically, conserve energy, prevent disease, use fewer pesticides, and improve the quality of the final product. And the best thing about it for farmers is that the system pays for itself within two years!"
At the end of the day, there could be no doubt that the potpourri of tastes, sights and smells at the Besor R&D Open Day would accompany visitors on their way home, dynamic proof of Herzl's famous saying, "If you will it, it is not a dream."
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