On Thursday, January 3, over 3,000 visitors from Israel and from abroad, including farmers from the Palestinian Authority and neighboring Arab countries, spent the day at the Open Day Agricultural Exhibition that took place at the Western Negev Research and Development Station. The annual exhibition provides an opportunity to showcase the station's research projects, which focus on discovering new species and growing methods that suit the soil, water and climate of the western Negev. With the help of its friends throughout the world, KKL-JNF funds 50% of the budget of Israel's research and development stations, which are located in Israel's peripheral regions in the north and south. There is a KKL-JNF representative at every R&D, who is involved in decision making and the R&D's daily activities.
Myron Sofer, director of the R&D, described some of the new technologies developed at the R&D over the past year: "In the Negev, more efficient water usage is absolutely critical. In order to regulate irrigation, we work with tensiometers, which measure water tension twenty centimeters deep in the soil. They have been in use for 110 years, but we were the first to use them in greenhouses. After three years of experimentation, we have been able to reduce water usage by 15-35%, without harming the crops. I am a Negev farmer myself, and I know what saving that amount of water means. Our goal is to make using the tensiometer so simple that even a twelve-year old child could operate them.
"In the Negev, manpower is very important. Israeli agriculture is very dependent on foreign labor, which is expensive and also limited by the government. We are trying to find ways to lessen dependence on manual labor. For example, the western Negev grows 50-60% of all of Israel's tomatoes, a crop which is very labor intensive. Together with the Vulcani Institute and Ben Gurion University, we are developing new methods of growing tomatoes, which we hope will cut back manpower costs within a year.
"Until now, agriculture in our region has largely been based on two crops – tomatoes and peppers. We need to help our farmers develop new crops. For example, squash are traditionally grown in open fields, but now we are growing them in greenhouses. It makes a huge difference. In the open field, you get between two to four tons of squash per dunam, but in greenhouses, the yield can be as high as twelve tons per dunam.
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