Israel agriculture sector’s high level of development is due to the close cooperation and interaction between scientists, extension advisers, farmers, and agriculture-related industries. These four elements have joined together to promote advanced technologies in all agricultural branches. The result is modern agriculture in a country, half of which is defined as desert.
Despite the decrease in the number of farmers and agriculture’s share in the GDP,agriculture plays a significant role as a major food supplier to the local market and is an important factor in Israeli export. Total agricultural produce in 2002 accounted for1.7% of the GDP. Some 62,000 people were directly employed in agriculture in2002. This number represents 2.4% of the country’s total labor force. The average monthly income per agricultural employee was $1,530 in 2002
Export Agricultural export (fresh and processed)for 2002 reached $1.050 billion, 4.1% of the country’s total export. Exported fresh produce amounted to $620 million, mainly to the European Union, while exported processed food products totaled $430million.A total of $1.32 billion of agricultural inputs were exported in 2001. This high figure represents the results of developing advanced agricultural technology, which has promoted the industry of sophisticated industrial inputs. Hands-on experience in local agriculture serves as a laboratory for development and production of new input technologies.
Climate and Topography
More than half of the country is characterized by an arid and semi-arid climate, and a large part of Israel is hilly. A narrow coastal strip and several inland valleys represent most of the fertile areas, where water supplied from aquifers and the Sea of Galilee make irrigation possible. Israel’s total land area is approximately 21,000 km2, of which only4,100 km2 – about 20% – are arable.Israel’s climate, together with extensive greenhouse production, enables production of vegetables, fruit and flowers during the winter off-season, especially for export to European markets. The water constraints and varied climate have stimulated the development of unique agro-technologies, based on high quality standards according to updated international production and food-safety regulations.
Value of Fresh Produce (2002)
Branch Millions of US $
Field crops 214
Vegetables, potatoes and melons 677
Flowers and ornamental plants 260
Other fruit 513
Animal ProductionPoultry 594
Beef and dairy cattle 450
Sheep and goats 85
Other animals 71
Source: Central Bureau of Statistics
In the early 1950s, one full-time agricultural employee supplied food for 17 people. In 2002, one full-time employee supplied food for 90 people.
Forms of Settlement : Much of Israel’s agriculture is based on cooperative settlements, which were developed in the early 20th century. The kibbutz is a large collective production unit. Kibbutz members jointly own the means of production and share social, cultural, and economic activities. At present, most of the kibbutz income comes from industrial enterprises owned by the collective unit. Another type of settlement is the moshav,which is based on individual family farms yet organized as a cooperative society.
The residents in both types of settlements are provided with a package of municipal services. A third type of settlement is the moshava, which is a village of private farmers. The kibbutz and the moshav currently account for 83% of the country’s agricultural produce. In addition to the Jewish agricultural sector, Arab villages are located in Israel’s rural areas. These villages focus mainly on production of small livestock (sheep and goats),vegetables, field crops and olives.
Flowers and ornamental plants account for8.0% of Israel’s total agricultural production, and 31.2% of the country’s total fresh agricultural export. In 2002, Israel produced1.2 billion flowers on an area of 2,750hectares, 78% of which are destined for export throughout the year, mainly to Europe. Israel’s flower sector is relatively small by international standards, but it is profitable. The average flower farm is about1.8 hectares.
The farmers’ expertise, combined with support from and collaboration with research institutions and extension services, contribute to the high quality and wide variety of flowers, which number over one hundred. Although the number of flower growers isconstantly decreasing, production has remained stable due to technological advances and an intensive production system.Varieties of Cut Flowers and Acclimatization of New Varieties Dozens of flower varieties are grown in Israel, including roses, ornamental plants,Gypsophila, wax flowers, Solidago,Limonium, lisianthus (Eustoma),gerbera, Hypericum, and Anemone.
In the past, traditional varieties (such as rose, gerbera and carnation) accounted for about 80% of total flower production. Today, these varieties account for less than 40% of total flower production. The rapid research and development period for new cut-flower varieties, until they become commercial, is due to the joint efforts of floriculture extension workers, the Flower Board, the Growers’ Association, researchers, and the growers themselves.
New varieties include acclimatized”summer flowers” from Europe, which are picked and exported mainly during Europe’swinter season; various acclimatized flowers indigenous to the Southern Hemisphere;development of local varieties and acclimatized native wild flowers that have commercial potential.The new varieties have been developed to suit the changing demands of the world market, from fragrant, colorful and fruit-bearing branches to flowers that are considered environment friendly. Israeli flower growers have also joined, a project sponsored by the Netherlands to promote environment friendly flower production.
Export of Fresh Agricultural Produce (2002)
Branch Millions of US $
Field crops 63
Vegetables, potatoes and melons 153
Flowers and ornamental plants 186
Other fruit 87
Seeds and seedlings 56
Livestock and livestock products 10
Source: Central Bureau of Statistics
Export of Processed Agricultural Produce (2002)
Branch Millions of US $
Meat and fish products 38
Fruit and vegetable products 146
Source: Central Bureau of Statistics
Export of Agricultural Inputs (2001)
Branch Millions of US $
Pesticides and herbicides 38
Irrigation equipment 89
Seeds, seedlings and propagation
Equipment and machinery 56
Livestock feed and supplements 43
Other, incl. livestock and know-how 346
Source: Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute
According to data for2002, the vegetable growing sector in Israel accounts for about21% of total agricultural production in the country and about 35% of total horticultural production. The value of the vegetable sector is estimated to be about $672 million. Production stood at 1.7 million tons, which are intended for consumption in the domestic market, export of fresh produce to Europe and the USA, and industrial processing and canning.
The increase in production and the uninterrupted supply of vegetable crops were made possible due to the exploitation of a number of factors in the production process, including:
* Production in different regions
* Production in protected conditions
* Exploitation of regional climatic conditions and production in different seasons Introduction of new crops and new varieties.
Production in protected conditions has expanded in recent years and now covers about 4,000 hectares, in which a wide variety of vegetables are grown. The main vegetables are table tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, peppers, green herbs, spring-and winter-sown watermelons and melons, leafy vegetables intended for the Orthodox religious market, and eggplants and strawberries. The latter two are grown in smaller quantities than the other vegetables mentioned.
* Production in greenhouses, walk-in tunnels, and net houses enables the following: Protection of the plants from natural disasters
* Ability to produce in different climatic and regional conditions
* Significant increase in yields and improvement in quality
* Reduction of plant pests which transfer viral diseases and cause direct damage to the plants
Significant reduction in the use of pesticides About 45,000 hectares of vegetables are grown in open fields. These vegetables have been adapted to the climatic conditions in Israel and may be grown in various regions, according to the growing seasons and the climatic conditions present there. This group includes potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, summer-sown melons and watermelons, and vegetables destined for industrial processing, such as tomatoes, corn, peas, and cucumbers for pickling.
Production for export is a main source of income for Israel’s vegetable growers, especially in the Arava in the southern part of the country, which is known for its unique climatic conditions in the winter months. These conditions enable production of high-quality vegetables for export, such as peppers, melons, vine ripe tomatoes, and cherry tomatoes. Other regions noted for vegetable production are the Beit Shean Valley and the Jordan Rift – where fresh herbs for export are grown – and the Sharon and western Negev, which excel in the export of potatoes, sweet potatoes, and strawberries.
Fruit orchards cover an area of about 36,000hectares; not including citrus groves. Produce reached 688,000 tons of fruit in2002 and amounted to a production value of $513 million. Fruit accounts for 16%of total agricultural production and 14%of total fresh agricultural exports. Israel exported 74,000 tons of fruit in 2002, of which 49,000 tons were avocado, 6,000tons were table grapes, 4,000 were mango, and 6,000 tons were persimmon. The varied climate lends itself to a wide variety of fruit crops.
In hilly and mountainous areas, for example, deciduous fruit trees, which have chilling requirements, are grown, while in the coastal plain or valleys, tropical and subtropical fruit trees can be grown. In the arid Arava zone, dates are grown successfully. Due to the varied climate and the advanced technologies forgrowing fruit trees under protected conditions(greenhouses and net houses)during the cold season, fruit can also be picked out of season, thereby prolonging the marketing period and improving fruit quality.
Citrus accounts for 5% of Israel’s total agricultural produce. In 2002, about530,000 tons of fruit were produced on a productive area of 17,000 hectares. Citrus accounted for 12.5% of all fresh export in 2001.In recent years, the citrus sector in Israel has been undergoing changes as it introduces new agro technologies to facilitate improved operations, including the planting of new citrus groves in arid and semi-arid regions.
Citrus Varieties :
Israel markets a wide variety of oranges, grapefruits, easy peelers, and lemons, as well as a range of more exotic citrus fruit. The traditional Shamouti orange is still Israel’s major citrus product by volume. Other varieties of oranges exported include the Valencia Late and Navel. In the past, the white grapefruit, originally grown in inland valleys, was partly replaced by the Sunrise variety, whose peel and flesh have a red tint. New easy-peeling varieties for export and for the local market, such as Or and Mor, have been planted on a large scale in recent years. Israel produces exotic citrus varieties, such as lime, kumquat (Chinese orange), limquat (a cross between lime and kumquat), andred or white pomelo.
Field crops require a high degree of mechanization. These crops are grown on about 175,000 hectares in Israel, 125,000of which are winter crops, such as wheat for grain and silage, barley for grain, hayand grazing, and legumes for hay and seeds. Some 50,000 hectares are planted with summer crops, such as cotton, sunflowers, chickpeas, green peas, beans, corn, industrial tomatoes, groundnuts (peanuts), and watermelon for seeds. Most of these crops are irrigated using modern technologies and are not rainfed. The value of field crops reached $200 million in 2002, of which $70 million were from exports (mainly cotton, groundnuts, sunflowers, and sweet corn forprocessing). Most field crops produce high yields and are of top quality – the result of joint efforts between R&D and extension personnel, related institutions,and the growers.
Organic farming accounts for about 1.2%of total agricultural production in Israel. most of which is aimed for the export market. In recent years, organic agriculture has become one of the fastest growing sectors, achieving an annual growth rate of 25%. Today, 400 farmers cultivate about 6,000 hectares of organically-grown crops. Organic agriculture has been considered as an alternative approach to conventional farming since the 1940s.However, the turning point was in the late1970s, when Mario Levi, from Kibbutz SdeEliyahu, promoted organic farming as a real alternative and showed it to be a profitable and income-generating branch.
Organic farming in Israel is conducted under intensive-production systems, and crop yields, quality, and profits often equaland even exceed conventionally-grown crops .Organic agriculture has the additional benefit of being environment-friendly and healthy. Organic farms in all parts of the country use the relative advantages of different production areas to provide a year-round supply of a wide variety of fresh, high quality products. The bio-dynamic approach has been introduced along side standard organic farming on several farms. This approach was initiated by Prof. Rudolf Steiner and combines principles of organic farming with a spiritual point of view.
In 2002, dairy and beef herds accounted for about 13.9% of Israel’s total agricultural production: 11.4% in milk and dairy products and 2.5% in beef products. The dairy sector supplies the country’s total dairy requirements, with production potential greatly exceeding domestic needs. Production is regulated by a planning and quota policy, which is currently undergoing structural changes, with emphasis on environmental aspects.
Israel’s dairy industry faces the challenge of meeting the demand for milk and milk products in a country whose population increased ten-fold since its establishment in1948. Milk consumption per capita reaches200 liters per year and places Israel among the world’s leaders in the dairy industry. According to data collected by the Israel Dairy Board (Production and Marketing), milk consumption in Israel increased from 92 million liters in 1950to 1,150 million liters in 2002.
Average milk production per cow has increased two and half times since the1950s, from 4,000 kg annually to more than 10,000 kg in 2002 (see graph). Fat and protein percentage increased dramatically during these years, reaching the highest level ever in Israel (3.55% of fat and 3.25% of protein) in 2002. The annual amount of fat and protein production per cow in Israel is the highest in the world .
Israel’s dairy-product and –technology exports include advanced and computerized milking and feeding systems, cow-cooling systems (to reduce heat stress on cows in Israel’s hot and drysummer), as well as milk processing equipment(especially “minidairies”),consultancy, and joint international project development. Israeli-Holsteingenetic sources have the potential for better adaptation and performance under hot climatic conditions, a fact that makes importation of heifers and frozen semen from Israel very attractive to countries with harsh climatic conditions.
Israel’s poultry sector accounts for approximately19% of the country’s total agricultural output. Consumption of poultry meat and eggs percapita, on a ready-to-cook basis, is among the highest in the world. Approximately 35 kg of chicken, 14 kg of turkey, and 250 eggs are consumed per capitain Israel annually. Additional sectors of the poultry industry include goose liver and ostrich farming for export.
Sheep and Goats
Sheep and goat production for milk and meat is one of Israel’s oldest agricultural branches. Today, approximately 2,500 families raise sheep and goats under a wide range of production systems: from extensive, traditional, semi-nomadic, and transhumant flocks to the intensive, zero-grazing dairy and meat units of the moshavim, kibbutzim,villages, and farms in various parts of the country. The evolution of the Israeli sheep sector is a good example of how modern technology has been integrated into a traditional farming system through research and extension.
Israel’s semi-arid climate, characterized by a shortage of water, necessitated the development of an intensive form of aquaculture. Saline seawater is used extensively and advanced technologies are employed to make maximum use of every cubic meter of water. Aquaculture accounts for 2.9% of total agricultural production.
The sector requires approximately 100 million m3 of water annually. Over 75% of the water is non-potable, and its sources are winter runoff and saline wells. Fish farming is carried out in the open sea and in ponds. Sea fish, including bassand sea bream, are raised in floating cages. Freshwater or inland fish, including tilapia, mullet, carp, trout, bass and silver carp are bred in artificial ponds and reservoirs.As in many other countries, fish consumption in Israel has risen in recent years. Today, average consumption stands at 11.4 kg per capita, which is expected to reach an estimated 12.6 kg by 2020.
There is a natural lack of bee pasture in Israel, due to the water shortage that has reduced the availability of nectar-rich crops. This has been further aggravated by rapid urbanization and the uprooting of orange groves and roadside eucalyptus trees, both of which used to be primary nectar sources for honey production. Consequently, beekeepers in Israel have adopted advanced, efficient beekeeping methods, including mechanization and breeding in order to increase their honey yield, resulting in an average annual honey production of 40 kg per hive.
The major importance of beekeeping in agriculture is not, however, the production of honey, but rather the many crops that can be pollinated exclusively or primarily by the honeybee.There are about 450 beekeepers in Israel, with over 84,000 Langstroth beehives. Nearly 75% of these hives are in large commercial apiaries, with hundreds and even thousands of colonies. This factor – indistinct contrast to most developed countries where largescale commercial beekeeping is only a small fraction of the overall bee industry – has undoubtedly contributed to high standards of modern beekeeping and apiary management in Israel.
Israel’s southern region, and in particular the Dead Sea area, is rich in mines that provide potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium for the agricultural sector. Some of the mined material is exported as raw material to fertilizer manufacturers throughout the world, and some is processed in Israel as ready-to-use fertilizers for agriculture in Israel and for export.
Israel is among the world’s largest manufacturers of potassium nitrate, a highly soluble fertilizer that is suitable for a wide variety of plants and crops. Potassium nitrate can be delivered through fertigation systems or by foliar application. The fertilizer is sold in powdered or granulated form. Other highly soluble fertilizers manufactured in Israel include MAP (mono-ammonium phosphate) and MKP (mono-potassium phosphate).
Israel is involved in the development, production and marketing of new varieties, which are resistant to disease and able to meet farmers’ requirements, including long shelf-life, durability under storage, high yield and adaptation to a variety of climatic conditions. Israel is considered to be one of the leading countries in seed research. Each year, Israel exports over $80 million worth of seeds, mainly hybrid vegetable seeds, to markets which depend on improved yields and quality.
Irrigation and Water Management
Lack of water is a major constraint in Israeli agriculture. Less than halfo f the arable land is irrigable due to the shortage of water. Over 500km, from north to south, Israel’s annual rainfall ranges from 800 mm to25 mm. The rainy season lasts from October to April, with no rain during the hot summer. Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, agricultural output has increased twelve-fold, while water use in agriculture has increased only three-fold. The output value in fixed prices has tripled per land unit and increased five-fold per water unit.
Use of Land and Water in Agricultural Production
1949 1970 1997 2001
Total cultivated land (1,000 ha) 165 411 410 348
Cultivated land under irrigation 30 172 194 188
Water consumption (in million m3) 257 1,340 1,287 1,022
Potable water (in million m3) 1,032 1,319 854 563
Recycled and brackish water
(in million m3) — 1,319 1,264 458
Source: Israel Water Commission
Production under protected conditions has become the principle way for Israeli growers to ensure a constant, year-round supply of high quality products, while minimizing chemical use. This method helps to overcome obstacles imposed by adverse climatic conditions, and a shortage of water and land. The total area covered with greenhouses, net houses and walk-in tunnels increased from 900 ha in the 1980s to about6,800 ha in 2002, with 4,000 ha for vegetables and 2,800 ha for floriculture, representing an average annual growth of 5- 8%.
The average farm size is 4 ha for vegetable production and 1.2 ha for flower production Greenhouses, which are capital intensive both in construction and maintenance, are largely used for high added-value crops such as flowers and vegetables .Due to the high investment, growers are constantly seeking methods to streamline their operations and make them more cost-effective. The greenhouse allows the farmer to control most production parameters –including climate, fertigation, and biological control of plant disease and insects –optimizing land use and yield distribution during the growing season.
Israeli farmers successfully grow between3.5 and 4.5 million roses per hectare in season. An average of 400 tons of tomatoes are grown per hectare, four times the amount harvested in open fields. In addition, plastic greenhouse structures have recently been introduced for housing livestock, poultry, and fish. In addition to traditional greenhouse crops such as flowers and vegetables, experiments have recently been conducted to investigate the feasibility of growing fruit – such as nectarines, peaches,loquats, grapes, and bananas – under protected conditions.