Arava Agricultural Open Day 2017

Tuesday, February 07, 2017 4:05 PM

Showcasing innovative agriculture in the middle of the desert

Innovations and new technologies in the field of agriculture were presented at the Central and Northern Arava Open Day. Research & Development scientists shared their groundbreaking research projects, and 200 exhibitors presented modern agricultural products to the general public. Among other things, it was possible to see new species of fruits and vegetables, methods for biological pest control, new seeds development, agricultural tools and many more advanced agricultural products. A highlight of the exhibition was KKL-JNF’s unique pavilion.
“When you talk about innovating in agriculture, research is the motor,” said Dr. Eyal Blum, mayor of the Central Arava Regional Council. “Land, water and labor are very expensive here when compared to the rest of the world, and our relative advantage is the knowledge we produce.”

About 30,000 visitors from throughout Israel came to the Central and Northern Arava Research & Development Center during the two open days (February 1-2). “This is the largest agricultural event in Israel,” said Ami Uliel, KKL-JNF Southern Region Director. “The professional hands of the R&D scientists will continue to lead applied agricultural research, and to serve Israeli agriculture.”

KKL-JNF is involved in many projects in the Arava, and provides a great deal of assistance to agriculture and settlement in the region. KKL-JNF supports research and agriculture and promotes agricultural research, among others. At the KKL-JNF pavilion, which was located at the entrance to the huge agricultural exposition, the organization’s many and diverse activities for the benefit of all of Israel’s citizens were on display: land, water, community development, agriculture, tourism, education and of course afforestation.

Nira Hasid from Tzur Hadassah visited the KKL-JNF pavilion and said: “We come to the Open Day every year to see the beauty of the land of Israel. This is a first-class educational project, which encourages agriculture and presents it to the general public.”

Open Day participants were invited to visit the R&D greenhouses, where they learned about research studies being conducted at the R&D. A few examples of the many research studies: the influence of less irrigation on date yields; acclimating grapevine species to Arava conditions; growing high-quality eggplants for export; growing spinach; greater efficiency using water of varying qualities and fertilizers of changing qualities; growing vegetables in solar greenhouses; irrigating mangos and grapevines with desalinated water; lowering levels of fertilizer in order to reduce land pollution; examining the suitability of mangos, apricots, peaches and nectarines for growing in the Arava; biological pest control; pest identification; creating resilient species; fish breeding and many more research studies and experiments.

“Our job is to connect between science, technology, and practical agriculture,” said R&D Director Boaz Horowitz. “The Arava is an example of how rural agriculture can develop. In order to be successful in agriculture in an arid region, serious research and many experiments are necessary, and that is what we do, with the help of KKL-JNF and our other partners.”
Arava farmers displayed their wares at the colorful fair, and visitors were invited to taste and to buy the fresh fruits and vegetables.

Giora Avihar, an organic vegetables grower from Hatzeva, came with his son Freddy and his grandson Uri, who are second and third generation farmers. Together, they sold sweet and very tasty cherry tomatoes that came straight from their greenhouses. “In order to be a farmer in Israel you need to be really crazy, and that’s exactly what we are,” said Giora. “The next generation is what keeps agriculture in Israel going, but the truth is that I don’t envy them, because this is really not an easy way of life.”

Meir Avikar came to the Open Day from Etz Efraim. “Arava agriculture is a source of national pride. A visit here on Open Day is fascinating also for people who aren’t farmers,” he said.

Ali Faraj, who works on an experimental agricultural farm, came a long way to the Arava from Kefar Maker in the north. He came to the Open Day with his wife and son. “I always want to progress in my agricultural work, to be updated and to see what’s new. That’s why I come to the Arava fair every year,” he said.

As part of the Open Day, a professional conference on “New Directions in Agriculture” also took place, with the participation of research scientists, farmers and other professionals.

Gilad Livni, a medical cannabis grower, presented the challenges of growing cannabis and spoke about the possibility of developing this crop in the Arava. “A lot of farmers want to get into this, but it’s important to realize that this is a very complex field,” he warned the farmers. Among other issues, he spoke about the large investment, low profit, difficulties in obtaining the necessary permits and the danger of pressure from criminal elements.

Dr. Yelena Povernov, a research scientist at the Vulcani Institute, spoke about edible wrappers, which increases storage time and preserves quality. “Like any packaging, edible wrappers can protect the product. The challenge is to produce individual wrappers on the basis of natural materials from plant sources,” she explained. As an example, she spoke about peppers, a major crop in the Arava. Wrappers could help prevent loss of water and also combat fungi that affect them adversely.

Additional lectures at the conference dealt with systems that combined fish breeding and growing vegetables, the importance of R&D stations in modern times, genetic manipulations in plants, new pepper species in the Arava, greenhouses that integrate photo-watt systems, and fungi-plant mutual relations.

Among the guests at the conference was General (ret.) Matan Vilnai, a former minister and outgoing Israeli ambassador to China. He spoke about the potential of agricultural exports to China and said: “Israel is hardly the size of a large city in China, but they consider us a global agricultural power that is to be admired. Exporting agriculture to China is not an easy challenge, but it could lead to a revolution in Israeli agriculture.”

The Open Day concluded after two enriching and fascinating days. The farmers went back to their fields, the scientists went back to their labs, and the huge amount of visitors went back to their daily routine. In another year from now, everyone will meet again, and it’s safe to assume that by then there will be even more surprising innovations in the world of agriculture.