A new pilot program is set to be launched later this year in an attempt to encourage employment of Israeli workers in the agricultural sector, Agriculture Ministry officials told the Knesset Foreign Workers Committee Wednesday. The program follows legislation proposed by committee chairman Ran Cohen (Meretz) that would encourage Israelis to replace foreign workers in the agricultural sector. The bill, which was approved by the Finance Committee, contained the model for the pilot proposal, which Agriculture Ministry representatives said was granted a NIS 5 million yearly budget. In the framework of the program, both workers and employers will receive financial benefits in exchange for use of Israeli labor. A total of NIS 15,300 will be invested per laborer per year, with grants of up to NIS 8,700 awarded per year to each worker and another NIS 6,600 per year to the employer, provided that the worker remains employed for a full year. But farmers in most of Israel will have to wait a bit longer before lining up to receive the new work force. For the time being, the pilot will be carried out in two areas: the Hefer Valley in the northern Sharon region and in the Arava. The system of cash benefits was designed because, as the pilot plan states, "the motivation of workers to work in agriculture is reduced because the salary is minimum wage and the work itself is relatively physically difficult." For employers, Israeli workers are seen as less than ideal because of low retention rates and the cost of transporting them from urban centers to the agricultural areas, the proposal noted. Although Cohen expressed satisfaction with the initiation of the pilot, he said the proportion of the payments should be readjusted to offer more money to the workers.