Galilee farmers running out of cash to keep ravenous cranes away

Farmers say they have spent already $1 million to repel cranes who failed to migrate.

CRANE 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
CRANE 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Growing flocks of hungry cranes in the Hula Valley failing to migrate have driven local farmers to pay nearly NIS 1 million to defend their property, a group of farmers in the Upper Galilee said Tuesday The birds have been spending their winters in the Hula Valley region rather than continuing their travels from Eastern Europe on toward Africa, destroying and eating crops planted by farmers instead. In the 1990s less than 1,000 birds stayed behind compared to nearly 30,000 in each of the last three years, according to Yossi Leshem, researcher at Tel Aviv University and director of the International Center for the Study of Bird Migration The increasing number of birds has stressed farmer resources to fend them off. "I could spend an entire day planting, and then return to find the field covered with cranes eating what I had just [completed]," said Zamir Karmi, coordinator of the Association of Field Crop Farmers in the Hula Valley. The Association met Tuesday for an emergency meeting in Afula to discuss the rising costs associated with their solution: a cornfield established specifically to feed the cranes. The joint KKL-JNF "crane-feeding project," created in partnership with the farmers and other environmental organizations, currently serves as a distraction from the crops, allowing farming to continue without damage. This comes, however, at a high price. "We believe that we know how to solve the issue with our project, but the problem is that we don't have the money," Karmi said. The farmers need around 400 tons of corn in order to feed the birds, although, due to the rising cost of corn, it has become harder to maintain the project. A ton of corn currently costs around NIS 1,200 compared to prices last year that ranged from NIS 700 to NIS 800 a ton. "What happens is that we, the farmers, are paying more and more every year to feed the cranes and keep them off our fields," Karmi said. "For years, the farmers have been paying from their own pockets. The government agencies say they want to help us, but nobody gives us money, forcing us to run after them year after year. This cannot continue to go on." The farmers claimed the overall cost of defending their property has risen above NIS 1m., adding that they can no longer afford to continue feeding the cranes without support. "My farmers are not going to pay anymore," Karmi said. "We are just going to watch our fields, no matter what it takes, even if we have to chase [the cranes] away." The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is looking toward developing a regulation that would support the farmers, the ministry's spokesperson Dafna Yurista said. "The goal is to have a uniform policy that includes coverage for general crop damages, which would likely apply to the farmers' current situation," she said. All of the various organizations and ministries are currently working to sort through the costs of the project, and the matter will be solved soon, Leshem said. In order to help offset the costs, a possible fee for tourists who come to the area to view the cranes may be implemented, he added. Efi Naim, a KKL-JNF Hula forester, also hailed the current project a success in deterring the cranes from the farming fields, but added that he hoped there would be more governmental participation in the future. "I'm very optimistic," Naim said. "I think that this will end without damage to the farmers or their land."