Peonies and Pineapples in the Negev Desert

Monday, February 29, 2016 11:33 AM

Open Day at the Western Negev Research and Development Station in Besor

On Wednesday, February 24, visitors from Israel and abroad attended the annual Open Day Agricultural Exhibition at the Western Negev Research and Development Station, which is co-financed by KKL-JNF.
If the idea of pineapples in the desert sounds like a total anomaly, a visit to the Western Negev Research and Development Station in Israel’s Besor region proves quite the opposite. Over 4,000 people from Israel and abroad, including the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority and neighboring Arab countries, attended the Open Day Agricultural Exhibition at the R&D station. Open Day provides an opportunity to showcase the station's research projects, which focus on discovering new species and growing methods that suit the desert soil, water and climate of the western Negev.
Growing pineapples in the desert is just one of the many exciting experiments being conducted at the R&D. Liana Ganot, Plant Protection Coordinator, greeted visitors in a greenhouse where experiments on support systems for tomatoes are being carried out. “We are trying to find ways to save manpower,” Liana said, “because that’s one thing we’re lacking in this region. We’re trying to orchestrate all the different stages of the growing season in order to maximize efficiency and yields.”
In another greenhouse, Adi Sadeh demonstrated how the same type of support system is being used for growing squash. “One of the advantages of this region is our ability to grow summer crops during the winter,” Adi said, “but there is a problem with the male flowers, which disappear at this time of year. We are trying to find agro-technical solutions to this and to other problems, for example, by reducing the growing season from a half-year to three months.”
And of course there are the peonies, a flower that loves cold and is grown in Holland over the cool months preceding the Dutch summer. Thanks to the R&D, they are now grown in the Western Negev during Israel’s winter, in order to market them in Europe during a time of the year when they are not available. R&D scientists developed various methods of providing the flowers with the degree of cold they are used to, including special growing platforms that allow the farmers to move the flowers to refrigerators for a few hours every day.
The impressive KKL-JNF booth at the fair attracted many visitors, and provided maps and brochures about KKL-JNF and its activities in the region. Yoav Sutill, who was at the booth, is a landscape architect who recently wrote a book about trees for children. “KKL-JNF expressed interest in publishing my book in South America as a way to help connect people to Israel. For me, that’s what an organization like KKL-JNF is all about.”
Among the international visitors was a group of over 100 students from Nepal, who are in Israel for a year to study agriculture at a college in Ashkelon. “In Nepal, we lack scientific technology in agriculture,” said Shudershun Baral, one of the students, “so a fair like this is fascinating for us. We also work in agriculture during our stay, and we hope to bring some of the new farming methods we have learned here back to Nepal.”
With the help of its friends throughout the world, KKL-JNF funds 50% of the budget of Israel's R&D stations. Lior Katri, the director of the Western Negev R&D, said that "with KKL-JNF, we know we're in good hands. KKL-JNF is our anchor. It's not just about financing. KKL-JNF personnel are involved in all our daily work. I talk about KKL-JNF whenever I speak about the Western Negev R&D, and as for the financing, I know that when KKL-JNF commits itself to transferring funds by a certain date, the money will arrive right on time.
Although he is now retired, Myron Sofer, the former director of the Western Negev R&D, makes a point of attending Open Day every year. “Innovating new things for so many years is how we maintain Israel’s technological advantage in agriculture,” he said, “and that’s what I hope we’ll continue doing in the future. The longer we do research, the more we learn.”