Farmers demand gov't declare disaster due to deep freeze

Local farmers are facing the loss of tens of millions of shekels following the recent cold weather.

farm biz 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
farm biz 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The government came under pressure from farmers on Tuesday to declare a nation-wide natural disaster after freezing overnight temperatures damaged crops across the country. Failure to declare an emergency would result in a significant rise in food prices, farmers warned. The Agriculture Ministry said it estimated NIS 75 million of damage has been caused to crops so far, adding that the cold spell was expected to continue for the next few nights, which would lead to further losses. Some 30,000 tons of potatoes in the western Negev were destroyed by the big freeze according to Heshi Rubin, director general of the Hevel-Maon farming group. The true scope of the damage however, will only become clearer over the next few days, said Yaron Solomon of the Israel Farmers Union."We're still shocked by the extent of the damage. Not everyone has understood the full scope of it yet," Solomon told The Jerusalem Post. "We're demanding a declaration of total national emergency because these kind of temperatures haven't been seen for 10-12 years. Everyone has been affected by this, in the Negev, the Jordan Valley, the north - everywhere. It's going to cause a massive loss of income for farmers," he said. Solomon added that a variety of crops have been damaged. A declaration of a natural disaster would oblige the government to pay out compensation to farmers, a solution Solomon said was vital since the main agricultural insurance policy only provided enough funds to partially cover the losses. Solomon raised the possibility of considerable price increases in fruits and vegetables if the government failed to come up with compensation, describing that scenario as "our big fear." "Farmers want to produce at reasonable prices," he noted. Ilan Eshel of the Israeli Fruit Grower's Association backed calls for government aid, telling the Post that it was "not possible" to avoid price increases. "Banana crops in the Western Galilee were particularly badly damaged," he said. The Agriculture Ministry said that a senior delegation would travel to the south of the country on Wednesday, where crop damage has been extensive, to inspect the farms. "The cold is expected to continue for the next few nights. It is too early to see at this stage what the extent of the damages will be," a statement by the Ministry said. Farmers were receiving assistance and special instructions from the Ministry on how to deal with the aftereffects of the cold spell, it added. The wintry conditions didn't spell disaster for everyone though, as vineyards stood to benefit from the weather, the Agriculture Ministry noted. Meanwhile, synthetic grass supplier Oz Grass reported a 25% increase in customer requests for services in recent days. Synthetic grass is unaffected by swings in temperature, and has therefore become a desirable solution for customers looking to maintain a green lawn throughout the year, the company said. The last time Israel was struck with a major cold spell was in 1997, the Agriculture Ministry said.