Dry winter may kill wheat crop

Israel's dry spell has mostly harmed agriculture in the Negev region, which has gone over 33 days without rain and where close to 70% of Israel's wheat is grown.

wheat field 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy photo)
wheat field 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy photo)
The absence of early winter rain already has cost fruit producers NIS 15 million and is threatening to destroy the wheat crop, potentially inflicting damages of between NIS 100m. and NIS 150m. on the industry, farmers said on Monday. Israel's dry spell has mostly harmed agriculture in the Negev region, which has gone over 33 days without rain and where close to 70 percent of Israel's wheat is grown, said Gershon Schlissel, manager of the Field Growing Association. The center of the country and the Negev have only received one-third of their normal rainfall, according to Amos Porat, climate division manager with the National Meteorological Service. As a result of the dry weather, fruit producers spent NIS 15m. last month irrigating 300,000 orchards of citrus fruits, avocados and mangos. Without the much needed rainfall, that cost is expected to rise as farmers exhaust their annual quota of water and will be forced to pay higher prices to obtain more water for irrigation purposes, noted Ilan Eshel, head of the Fruit Growers Association. Fortunately for fruit producers, the national weather service with the Ministry of Agriculture is forecasting significant rainfall over the weekend, said Marc Perel, an agricultural meteorologist with the ministry. "If it rains this week, then the damage won't be so bad," Eshel said. That rain might not come in time to save Israel's wheat crop, however. Unlike fruit producers, wheat farmers are by and large not equipped to irrigate their fields as their growing season occurs during the rainy winter months. "We seed our wheat at the beginning of November, and we need rain immediately after the seeding," explained Schlissel. Agricultural experts concur that the amount of rain is generally not as important as when it rains. "It's not a question of quantity, it's a question of timing" you need it at the beginning, middle and end of the season, Perel explained. Over one million dunams of wheat fields stand to be affected this year, potentially costing farmers almost their entire crops. Wheat prices are unlikely fluctuate, however, as Israel imports nearly 80% of its wheat from abroad, commented Yossi Shai, director general of the Ministry of Agriculture. Porat, noted, however, that some recovery is possible, noting that last also season started badly with over 25 straight days without any rain. But, he said, if this weekend's predictions for rain don't come to fruition, the planting of other crops including alfalfa, peas, potatoes and even hummus could be affected. Meanwhile, wine vineyards in the Golan, which has only received 75% of its average rainfall, have not been disturbed as they generally depend on heavy rains in January and February, said Victor Schoenfeld, the chief wine maker with The Golan Heights Winery.