Open House at the Besor R&D Station in the Negev -

We are not doing academic research that is unconnected with the field. We are conducting applied experiments that offer solutions for the difficulties encountered by the farmers

March 3, 2010 13:18

kkl. (photo credit: kkl)

An Agricultural Start-up

Open House at the Besor R&D station in the Negev provided an opportunity to showcase dozens of the station's research projects relating to the development of new species and growing methods that suit the region's special conditions in terms of the soil, water and climate.  The Besor R&D deals with finding solutions for current problems as well as long term development of advanced technologies for production and introduction of new products, while utilizing of the region's relative advantages. 

“We are not doing academic research that is unconnected with the field. We are conducting applied experiments that offer solutions for the difficulties encountered by the farmers,” explained Meron Sofer, director of the R&D station.  “Our job is to investigate problems, to understand phenomena, to sample methods and to bring this important information to the awareness of the agricultural public.”

Hundreds of visitors attended the agricultural expo at the Besor station.  Among them were farmers from the region and from all over Israel, entrepreneurs from various agricultural enterprises, and missions from all over the world.  Among the representatives were guests from Jordan and from the Palestinian Authority.  Everyone came to learn from the best Israeli minds dealing with agriculture.

The visitors were impressed with the diversity of topics: advanced growing methods, species of vegetables, seeds, flowers, mechanical equipment, growing beds, fertilizers, and so on.  The professionals took advantage of the opportunity to become acquainted with new technologies and to make contacts.

The Besor R&D station was the first regional R&D station to be established in Israel. In its early years it was occupied with agricultural development related to the first settlements of northern Sinai.  After the peace agreement with Egypt, it moved to the western and northern Negev, and today its activities are focused on the areas of the Eshkol, Sedot Negev and Merhavim regional councils.  KKL-JNF, as part of its efforts to promote applied technologies at all the R&D stations in Israel, also supports the activities of the Besor R&D station, with the help of its friends worldwide, including Friends of KKL-JNF Canada.  Additional supporters are the World Zionist Organization, the Ministry for Development of the Negev and the Galilee, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the regional councils.

Most interesting were the studies and experiments presented to the general public by research scientists from academic institutions and Ministry of Agriculture field instructors, who also participate in implementation.  New developments were presented in flower and vegetable cultivation, fertilization, growing beds, pest control, efficient use of water and a range of other applied research studies.

Yair Nishri, an instructor from the Ministry of Agriculture, presented a study whose purpose was to facilitate the cultivation of lisianthus flowers without using heaters, since the high cost of heating was detrimental to profits. The R&D research found that there were particular species that attained appropriate height, color and timing, even without artificial heating. At present it is possible to grow this flower all year round without any heating.

Niv Faig, a scientist from the Volcani Institute, studied the use of the micorisa mushroom, which exists naturally in the soil, for increasing crops, improving the harvest and for cultivating certain flowers. It became clear that this fungus helps in absorbing phosphorus and water, which are vital for the flower. In addition, it protects the flower from the spreading of other fungi that harm its roots. The research includes studying the influence of fertilization and irrigation levels on the effects of the fungus on the flowers.

Dr. David Ben Yakir, a scientist from the Volcani Institute, is studying the development of netting for protection against pests.  The problem: there are very small pests that can penetrate through the holes of conventional netting.  If the holes are too small, the ventilation necessary for the plants is harmed.  The innovative idea developed at the Besor R&D station: netting that confuses the insect’s orientation and prevents its entry. Yellow stripes all along the netting cause the ubiquitous pest of the trips type to think it is already on the plant, and to stay where it is.  A solution was also found for the problem of whiteflies. Light reflecting substances on the netting do not allow the whiteflies to see, and they prevent it from landing on the netting.

According to Zeri Gal, the director of agricultural department at the Polishek company, a partner to this development, the innovative netting serves not only the local farmers, who grow peppers and tomatoes, but is being sold to many countries all over the world, such as the USA, Australia, Mexico and Kenya.

Lengthening the growing season can significantly contribute to farmers. Research on the cultivation of peppers is investigating the possibility of early planting and a lengthened growing season for marketing and export purposes.  The study examines different growing techniques: net and plastic coverings, and heating and distance between plants. Already, before experimentation has been completed, the crop has increased by 3 tons compared to last year.

There are 180 dunams of buttercups in the Negev, but farmers are coping with a serious problem: the season is very brief – December to February.  In this period, the quality of the flowers is excellent and suitable for export, and their price is high.  At the Besor R&D station, an overview of the various species of flowers is being conducted, with the goal of identifying quality species with a long season.  The aim is to select species with a large bulb and a sturdy stem that will produce high quality and quantity.  Another study is investigating the effect of the growth hormone giberline on buttercup cultivation, with the hope to effect earlier blooming and to improve the quality of the flowers. Immersion treatments with the hormone and different sprays are being tested.

The peony flower arrived in Israel from China. It is a flower that grows in cold regions, and its cultivation in Israel began ten years ago in the north of Israel.  No one believed then that peonies could be grown in the Negev. Research at the Besor R&D station, however, discovered that if the bulbs were refrigerated, the flowers would flower around January – February.  The chill it has received allows the Chinese flower that likes the cold to flourish even in the south of Israel.  These peonies are among the earliest in the world to bloom, so they don’t have to compete with their relatives in the north. They precede them and lengthen the Israeli export season.

At this time, during which the water economy of Israel has been undergoing a continuing crisis, saving water and its efficient use for irrigation are, obviously, important subjects for research.  For farmers, cutbacks in quotas and price increases render water efficiency an economic necessity.  In view of this, an experiment is being done whose purpose is to establish protocols for the cultivation of tomatoes using minimal use of water without detriment to the plants or production.  The taxiometer, an old instrument for measuring the amount of water required by a plant, is connected to a computer, in order to allow for constant tracking and analysis of data.

Sheli Ganz, a Ministry of Agriculture national instructor for the cultivation of edible tomatoes, spoke about species testing in the cultivation of tomatoes.  “We are examining tomatoes of different sizes and colors, and seeking special species that could conquer the market.  We have tomatoes here of all sizes – mini, midi and maxi.  We are checking the production levels of each species, its shelf life and its product quality.”

Thirty million shekels is the annual budget of Israel's R&D stations, and half of that amount comes from KKL-JNF, thanks to the support of KKL-JNF friends worldwide.  Among the many booths at the expo, KKL-JNF’s booth stood out, presenting the diverse fields of KKL-JNF activity: afforestation, water source development, the environment, tourism and, of course, agriculture and settlement.  A large sign greeting visitors at the entrance to the booth, boasted flags from countries all over the world, expressing appreciation to all the friends of KKL-JNF in Israel and abroad, for their contribution towards the preservation and development of the land of Israel.

According to Amnon Mizrahi, KKL-JNF representative at the information desk, “KKL-JNF is a name that attracts people.  The older people come to see the Blue Box, which gives them a feeling of nostalgia, while the younger people are interested in hiking trails for the whole family and, the biggest hit in recent years, bicycle routes.”

Rony, from Rishon Letzion, arrived at the booth to sign up for receiving updates.  “I am interested in family outings and bicycle trips.  I’ve heard a lot about KKL-JNF activities, and now I will be able to participate in them regularly.”

Prof. Yossi Riyov, a forestry expert from the Faculty of Agriculture, also visited the KKL-JNF booth.  “I have had professional contact with KKL-JNF for many years.  Now that I have joined the Friends of KKL-JNF, I will be able to participate in leisure activities, unconnected to my work.”

Distinguished Open House guests visited the KKL-JNF booth, including Yossi Yishai, CEO of the Ministry of Agriculture; Haim Yelin, Head of the Eshkol Regional Council; Avshalom Vilan, Secretary General of the Israel Farmers Association.

Yossi Yishai: “The Ministry of Agriculture has designated several main goals for the coming year, and R&D is first and foremost.  We have budgets allocated for this, and if we utilize them properly, agriculture will take a major jump forward.”  Avshalom Vilan: “The connection between research, agricultural instructors and farmers is the winning triangle that has positioned Israeli agriculture at the top of the charts.  Israeli knowledge in agriculture is being sought all over the world, and the research is what makes it possible for Israel to continue leading in this field.”

Haim Yelin added: “The first species of peppers were born here at this R&D station.  In high-tech this is called a start-up.  In spite of the missiles that were landing on us, and our proximity to the border, agriculture continued to flourish at all times. A farmer never takes his land and moves to Tel Aviv, but stays to cultivate it to the last row.  The Palestinian mission visiting us today includes a man who lost his son in Operation Cast Lead.  These are our neighbors and they would like to grow vegetables, not Kassam rockets.  We hope this collaboration will usher in a new era, not just agriculturally but also politically.”

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                                                              Ahuva Bar-Lev

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                                       Phone: 972-2-6583354 Fax:972-2-6583493

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