The Arava Open Day is held annualy by farmers of the central Arava region and KKL-JNF R&D stations. Such "Open Days" in the Arava have been transformed from events designed to present the achievements of modern agriculture in an area characterized by extreme climatic and agronomic conditions, into a nationwide event.
Thousands of farmers from the entire country, including Upper Galilee and the Golan Heights, flock to Hatzeva throughout this day to participate in the event, at which the newest scientific technologies in the area of desert agriculture are demonstrated. These included methods for saving and recycling water, methods of cultivation in soil unsuitable for agriculture, organic crops for which the international market is constantly increasing and the development of new branches resulting in profit and providing a livelihood for farmers who have invested in them.
Major research has been aimed at decreasing by half the water needed for agriculture in the Arava whilst enabling expansion of agricultural production. Much of the water required today is used to wash away accumulated salt in the soil in hothouses during the growing season.
Recently the four main bodies involved in developing agriculture in the Arava have re-organized research and scientific development into one single body by merging the activities of the research stations in the regional councils of Megilot, Tamar, Arava and Eilot. Those involved in the decision are the Ministry of Agriculture, KKL-JNF, the Prime Minister's office and the Settlement Department of the Jewish Agency who agreed to increase investments in research in scientific and agricultural development and to combine forces to promote research that will contribute to ecological and agricultural development from the Dead Sea and southward.
Thousands visit the hothouses at the Yair Research Station operated with the help of contributions from Friends of the KKL-JNF America and Australia. Visitors can view experiments presently being conducted at the station involving growth mediums, irrigation regimes, production of more resistant varieties of peppers, tomatoes, and various types of flowers. The laboratory for raising edible, tropical fish and for breeding reef-fish for sea aquariums proves a special attraction for guests. This laboratory proudly presents groups of new baby Amphiprion fish, which will be transferred to fish farms owned by three Arava farmers in the central Arava who plan to develop expertise in this new, complex field.
This year's development was conducted under the slogan "Seeing Green, Thinking Far Ahead" to emphasize both the ecological aspects of agriculture in the Arava and organic agriculture, for which there is unlimited international demand. The central areas of interest were the use of biological dusting and pest control, the constant but successful struggle against the Mediterranean fruitfly (conducted in cooperation with the Kingdom of Jordan), organic fertilizers, and recycling of agricultural waste gas for compost.
At hothouses of the moshavim of Hatzeva and Ein-Yahav, visitors could assess for themselves "clean Arava" - the foundation upon which agriculture in the area has flourished. Hothouses and adjacent open areas are free of rubbish and litter such as plastic sheeting, gasses, and empty packages. All these items are collected and recycled. Plants in the tomato hothouses stand in rows in military-like precision. The plastic hothouses, in which experiments are conducted to decrease the use of water by planting in furrows or in containers with artificial medium, produce high-quality vegetables. Experiments in control of soil pests or various plant diseases are being conducted in adjacent hothouses that integrate ecological agents as opposed to poisonous methods of pest-control.
Lilach Morgan, head of the Central Arava Regional Council speaks of a wave of expansion that is bringing young people and attracting new residents to the moshavim of Hatzeva and Ein-Yahav and of similar plans for the moshavim of Tzofar and Paran - all established and developed with help from Friends of KKL-JNF worldwide. These plans include the addition of 120 housing units in each of these settlements. They do not include expansion of agricultural areas but involve a transition towards new branches of production that require much smaller areas within the present farms. "The national criteria for agriculture do not relate to special needs of the Arava and Dead Sea Valley area so it is necessary to create a plan that will allow us to obtain the necessary manpower for agriculture."
The new laboratory at Yair Arava R & D station, established with Friends of KKL-JNF America will soon be dedicated. The operation of the new laboratory will create a convenient and efficient work space for the many scientists responsible for R & D at the Yair Station.
Elon Gadiel, head of Agricultural Research and Development in the Arava: "The Open Day has become a leading event in Israeli agriculture, with emphasis placed on modernization, development of varieties that are tasty and have a long shelf-life, and the establishment of new methods for saving water and growing crops in extreme climatic and agronomic conditions. Today there are 2500 dunams (600 acres) of hothouses for organic crops in the central Arava in conditions acceptable by the most rigorous market standards in the world - mainly in the United States. The extent of expertise in organic agriculture is constantly growing. KKL-JNF is our loyal partner not only in research and development, but in the settlement of the Arava in general. We must remember that the production expenditures here are extremely high. A farmer can spend an average of NIS1500 per month on heating and cooling energy for hothouses. During summer the monthly electric bill for one flower cultivation area can run as high as NIS80,000. I see agricultural research and development in the near future focusing upon the advancement of technology for reducing the need for manpower, and for locating alternative sources of energy. In addition, efforts should be continued to find technological solutions for saving water. We also want to develop agricultural tourism, of which KKL-JNF is our biggest "client". We want to upgrade the system at the Yair station so that it can serve all Israeli or foreign visitors. We have something to be proud of!"
This summer, too, as every summer, the Arava will undertake a month of sterilization during which cultivation is halted in all the pepper, tomato, and spice hothouses. During this month the hothouses will undergo treatment, cleaning, and preparation for the coming season. Tomato seedlings that have grown to a length of 14 meters (15 yards) during the previous season are transported together with agricultural gasses to a compost site. At the same time, trucks will arrive from the north bringing a new generation of 80 million shekels worth of new tomato seedlings. This is the way a new growing season begins, in which quality and ecology are preserved - a quality and ecology that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.