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Seventy-one year-old Moshe Tzori is a farmer with a guilty conscience.
"The soil has been good to me all my life, but have I been good to it?" he asks.
One would think that Tzori has engaged in some nefarious activities to warrant such misgivings about his agrarian past - but no, far from it. All he has done is exactly what most farmers traditionally do: overirrigate.
Why is that so bad?
Explains Tzori, a longtime resident of Moshav Nir Banimin in the northern Negev: "Water wastage is bad enough in a country like Israel where it is so scarce; but there is another aspect and no less disturbing - pollution. Unused agricultural water spreads harmful insecticides, pesticides and herbicides into our underground water supplies. This stuff is poison. It's bad enough that we have to inflict our crops with it, but then to contaminate our subterranean water resources is untenable. Why? Because it is preventable."
The bottom line, says Tzori, is that if we used only the water that was "precisely required," our planet would be far healthier.
Tzori cites the example of Caesarea, a boutique housing estate where real estate sells for millions of dollars. He poses the question "What is causing more pollution in the area - the Hadera power station or the golf course?"
The power station, which runs on coal, pollutes the air, but with new enforced regulations, filters have been installed reducing the dangers. On the other hand, the huge expanse of the golf course is constantly over watered, and the excess water takes harmful fertilizers with it and seeps into underground aquifers. If the supply of water was controlled to provide precisely what the grass naturally requires, there would be no excess to pollute the earth below. This phenomenon, according to Tzori, is "occurring everywhere, and through water wastage pollutants are seeping into our streams, rivers and underground water resources."
This problem had been tormenting him for years. No ivory tower analyst, Tzori was not satisfied to merely lament his past culpability as a successful farmer, so he set about working for a solution.
He believes he has succeeded.
With more than 40 years of literally "in the field" experience and supported by his highly qualified sons with technical backgrounds, five years ago Tzori came up with an invention that could revolutionize the nature and scope of husbandry.
Simply put, his CommonSensor, as he calls it, produced by his company Commonsensor Ltd. (www.common-sensor.com), is a computerized precision device that prevents inefficient water usage and dramatically reduces pollution. It enables the maximum exploitation of available water for irrigating field and greenhouse crops, as well as home and public gardens.
"The beauty of it," he assures, "is that it leaves no residual water that contains waste fertilizers to percolate underground."
What's more, according to Tzori, research has shown that "there could be anywhere from a 50% to 70% saving in water costs."
If these findings are not sufficiently persuasive, Tzori assures that "We have also found that an exact dosage of irrigation increases the quantity, as well as improving the quality of the crop. You won't believe how much sweeter fruit tastes."
Supporters of organic food would have little difficulty understanding why.
Lisa Cohen, the Welsh-born director of the Sharon branch of The Council for a Beautiful Israel - an advocate for organic food - makes a strong connection between the runaway use of chemicals in modern farming and the effect it has on the quality of our food.
"The fresh produce we buy in supermarkets may look good with its standardized shapes, colors and packaging, but it tastes like chemicals. We have become consumers of chemicals. We drink them in our water and eat them in our food, leading to the high incidence of cancer in most societies," says Cohen.
She feels that Tzori's revelations and device are "well worth studying."
That is precisely what has been happening for the past few years at Israel's prestigious Volcani Institute, as well as the monitoring of some 20 units installed for commercial farming, agricultural research and home gardening.
The results, says Tzori, are excellent.
So how did he arrive at his invention?
A lifelong observer of nature and a graduate of the Kaduri Agricultural School in the Galilee, Tzori felt that who better to understand the needs of nature but nature itself. It would be arrogant to think otherwise, he says. Man assumes he understands the cyclical process of nature and turns the tap on and off at his choosing.
"He will take a hose or turn on a water sprinkler for 20, 30 or 40 minutes, but on what basis is he determining the duration?" asks Tzori. "For the most part, it's guesswork."
What makes his device unique is that the irrigation is plant-driven.
The plant decides when it needs water and how much. All other systems rely on a human operator to decide the times of irrigation and the amount of water supplied, regardless of the requirements of the plant.
And that seems to be the point: No one had thought to tap in to the plant to find out when it's thirsty. All you have to do is place the device, operated by solar-heated batteries, in a critical spot in the crops, flowerbed, grass or other area and let the plant take over the automatic control of the irrigation. The selected or anchor species will make the determination for a wide area, requiring only one device, say, in a wheat field, cluster of trees or patch of grass.
What is interesting is that the amount of water released would not necessarily be at the same times or amounts each day, even if the climatic conditions appear similar.
"In the same way that all vegetation goes through cyclical changes on a seasonal basis, which are easily recognizable, it also passes through cyclical changes on a daily basis, relating to slight variations in the weather, soil and other factors that are not identifiable. The plant senses these variations, which are picked up by the device, and it releases the right amount of water accordingly."
Tzori says he is indebted to his sons, three of whom are highly qualified with technical backgrounds in hi-tech industries, and a fourth who is a lawyer. Patents for new inventions are not new to the Tzori family but have been mainly in the software industry.
"While I had crystallized my ideas relating to irrigation many years ago, there was little I could do to take the matter further until the dramatic advancement in micro-electromechanical technology of recent years. That is where my sons came in."
The pivotal phase in the development came not in a laboratory but "under a tree on my moshav. It's always been the favorite place for the family to sit. When my boys said, 'Okay Abba, what's your idea?' they said, 'Give to us, and we will come up with the technology.'"
They did, and the rest is not only history but may also be the future.
So before sprinklers and the garden hose are classified as weapons of mass destruction, Tzori's invention may well join Israel's impressive track record of innovative contributions to global agriculture.
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