Fewer potatoes, more 'superfoods' could be perfect recipe for Israeli agriculture

Report says Israel no longer has an edge exporting standard fruit and vegetables, but the market for its specialty produce is ripe for the picking.

A potato grows in a field irrigated by recycled waste water in Kibbutz Magen in southern Israel. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A potato grows in a field irrigated by recycled waste water in Kibbutz Magen in southern Israel.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel should become a specialty food leader and focus more on the Asian market, the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute said on Tuesday, citing a report it conducted together with Hebrew University professor Amir Heiman and the Agriculture Ministry to find ways to counter the increasing financial challenges facing local farmers.
The report, titled Strategy Building for Exporting Fresh Produce from Israel, showed that while revenue from exporting standard items like potatoes and tomatoes have taken a hit in recent years, Israel could carve out its niche in the world market by exporting more “superfoods” such as pomegranates, dates and avocados and tapping developed markets in Asia where specialty foods are in demand.
Japan, Taiwan and Singapore were singled out in the report as the countries to which Israel should step up exports since customers in those locations are willing to pay the prices demanded by Israeli farmers for their premium produce.
Outside of Asia, the report found Canada to be ripe for more Israeli exports because consumers there are used to paying high prices for fresh, imported produce. Those high prices, therefore, would justify the cost of shipping from Israel.
In the European market, specifically Germany, France and Britain, the report recommended that Israel shift its exports solely to specialty products since Israel does not have a competitive edge in exporting the potatoes and peppers traditionally sent to the continent.
Although China and India are known to be some of the fastest-growing markets in the world, the report advised against exporting to those countries just yet since the market overall would not be willing to pay the higher prices for Israeli products, even for standard produce.
David Hayman, general manger of the Farmer’s Federation of Israel, agreed with the report’s recommendations given the fact that Israeli produce exporters have seen their revenues drop 20 percent in the past two years.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, he said the biggest challenge to Israeli exporters in the European market comes less from currency issues or boycotts than from increased domestic competition within Europe for basic food items.
“Israel can’t compete with potatoes and tomatoes,” he said. “The future is with premium foods like dates and avocados,” as well as summer fruits such as apricots, peaches and nectarines.
Israeli exports are also facing heavy competition in Russia, an export market for Israeli potatoes where, he said, Egyptian potatoes have an edge.
“They [Egypt] have cheaper labor, cheaper land, more government support and pay less export taxes because they are considered a developing country,” Hayman said.
He predicted that more and more of Israeli farmers’ revenue will come from agricultural research, but heavily warned against becoming a strictly research market.
“If we’re not careful, people will not produce food in Israel and we are the kind of country that needs to produce its own food.”