Israelis shaping future of agriculture attract international attention

Representatives from over 40 countries arrived in Israel this week to discover technologies driving the fourth agricultural revolution.

A fruit-picking drone designed by Tevel Aerobotics Technologies on display at Agriisrael 4.0, June 25, 2019  (photo credit: HAGAY OFFEN)
A fruit-picking drone designed by Tevel Aerobotics Technologies on display at Agriisrael 4.0, June 25, 2019
(photo credit: HAGAY OFFEN)
From fruit-picking drones to pollination intelligence, Israeli agricultural innovation has continued breaking down barriers ever since Netafim first pioneered drip irrigation over five decades ago at Kibbutz Hatzerim.
Initially born out of necessity in the resource-scare state’s early days, cutting-edge Israeli agricultural innovation has forged ahead in recent years, securing its place as a leading source of digital solutions to agronomic issues far beyond its borders.
Representatives from over 40 countries, from Botswana to Chile, arrived in Israel this week to discover technologies currently driving a fourth agricultural revolution likely to be defined by artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data and drones.
They were hosted by Agriisrael 4.0, a four-day conference showcasing Israel’s hi-tech prowess in agriculture organized by the Agriculture Ministry, Israel Export Institute, Economy Ministry and Foreign Affairs Ministry.
“Israel’s agricultural industry has been a world leader in terms of development and innovation as a whole,” Lior Konitzki, Israel Export Institute vice director-general, told the Post.
“Nowadays, when we see the real integration of technology into agriculture, Israel will be leading the scene as a real global player. Israeli technology is relevant all over the world, whether it is tackling water scarcity in California or precision farming in Holland.”
Tevel Aerobotics Technologies, one of two-dozen start-ups presenting their agricultural solutions to potential partners on Tuesday, is currently testing its fleet of autonomous airborne robots for fruit harvesting. As availability of field workers diminishes, farmers are seeking technological solutions to look after their orchards.
Founded by Yaniv Maor, former manager at Israel Aerospace Industries subsidiary ELTA systems, Tevel’s fleet of drones uses artificial intelligence vision algorithms, orchard mapping and data, and balancing and maneuvering algorithms to autonomously pick apples and oranges from trees at the right time.
“Everywhere we go in the world, whether it’s Israel, the United States, Europe or China, you can see the same problems,” said Maor.
“Farmers, growers and food companies don’t have enough people to pick their crops. If they don’t have the pickers, they don’t have revenue. We’re currently carrying out experiments in orchards in northern and central Israel, and the plan is to commercially deploy the technology next year in Israel, the United States and Europe.”
Converting one of the most old-fashioned industries, Tel Aviv and California-based BeeHero aims to boost crop-yield by utilizing real-time beehive data and pollination intelligence.
The company provides beekeepers with sensors installed inside beehives, which are combined with BeeHero’s algorithms to predict beehive disorders in real-time and mitigate the growing problem of colony collapse. Enabling beekeepers to make adjustments to ensure hive well-being, the company says, enables pollinators to increase yields by 30% on average.
Jezreel Valley-headquartered Manna Irrigation Intelligence, a subsidiary of Rivulis Irrigation, has already implemented its advanced irrigation recommendation system in more than 10 countries worldwide.
The company uses satellite imagery, hyper-local weather forecasts, and self-developed crop models to provide growers with accurate valve-specific recommendations regarding when and how much to irrigate.
“Until today, irrigation scheduling or recommendations have been determined by three main approaches: experiences passed from generation to generation, old protocols based on water tables published by local agronomic authorities, and sensors,” said Manna CEO Eyal Mor. “Sensors are great, advanced technologies, but are costly and require installation, power and maintenance. We don’t touch the ground and you don’t need to install anything.”
The company’s system is capable of working anywhere in the world, Mor explained, assuming access to satellites and weather services provided by partners.
“The same system can serve a one-hectare grower in India and a very large coffee plantation of 500 hectares in Brazil,” Mor said.
According to Dr. Michal Levy, senior deputy director-general of agricultural innovation at the Agriculture Ministry, cementing Israel’s place as a leader in agricultural innovation ultimately boils down to a combination of smart investment, education and the country’s unique culture.
“According to the OECD, we are one of the leading countries investing in research and development,” said Levy. “Specifically in agriculture, 17% of the government budget directly supports R&D.
“We also have a well-educated Israeli workforce, with a strong hi-tech industry. There is also the Israeli culture of chutzpah, being direct and not hesitating to combine forces with people in other disciplines to develop new technologies.”
Increased foreign interest in Israeli innovation, Levy said, also benefits the domestic agricultural industry, as Israeli companies need to work with local farmers to test their technologies.
“We see people coming from more than 40 countries to Israel because they understand that something is happening here, and they don’t want to miss out,” she said.