The Agriculture Ministry and the Tax Authority have approved a plan to compensate farmers in the Gaza Strip vicinity whose crops received indirect damage due to Operation Pillar of Defense in November, the ministry announced on Sunday.There are about 550 working farmers within the border area, a significant portion of whom will submit compensation requests under this expedited, “fast-track” compensation program – about the same number who submitted such requests during Operation Cast Lead four years ago, the ministry said. The amount of compensation will be based upon crop type and professional expense calculations determined by the ministry.The compensation formula differentiates between farmers who were slated to harvest crops during that period and therefore had to cease operations, and those who were not in crop-picking season and suffered more from day-to-day crop care, the ministry explained. Following this normative compensation model, the farmers will be able to receive the compensation amounts allotted to them without unnecessary delays, according to the ministry. It is critical that this segment of the country’s agricultural sector receive their compensation, as security officials had instructed them to avoid working their farmlands during Operation Pillar of Defense, the ministry stressed.“The process of submitting applications is easy, and I hope we finish transferring the compensation money in a very short time, thus limiting the economic damage caused to farmers during Operation Pillar of Defense,” said Yossi Yishai, director-general of the Agriculture Ministry.Israel’s Gazan border region – the areas of the Eshkol, Hof Ashkelon, Sha’ar Hanegev and Sdot Hanegev Regional Councils – are quite literally the “vegetable basket” of the country, with some 1,100 hectares of tomatoes, 400 hectares of peppers and 200 hectares of herbs and spices, the ministry stressed. About one-third of these vegetables are grown for export. Also in the region are about 6,000 hectares of potatoes (about half for export), 2,000 hectares of carrots, 300 hectares of sweet potatoes (about half for export) and 1,000 hectares of radishes (mostly for export).In addition to the vegetables, the region also features about 550 hectares of flowers and house plants, almost all of which are exported, the ministry said.During the conflict, an organization called the Institute for Resolving Conflict in Agriculture at the Israel Loss Adjusters Association had worked with farmers to provide them free financial counseling.Meanwhile, the Agriculture Ministry, the Home Front Command and Defense Ministry pooled their resources to build an additional 100 bomb shelters in the South’s agricultural areas, to enable some work with cattle, in greenhouses and in open fields to go on, and continue to provide the nation with food.