Israel struggles with its ag future

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(Note: Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell is traveling with an Ohio agricultural trade mission to Israel.)
UPPER GALILEE, Israel – How are you going to keep them down on the kibbutz once they’ve seen Paree?
The post-WWI song seems particularly appropriate for Israel’s agriculture today.
Who will farm tomorrow? The rural areas of Israel, particularly in the kibbutz or in the small farming villages, face the same challenges as the U.S.: How do you keep or entice the younger generation to stay or come to the farm? Many flock to Tel Aviv to work in finance, computers or high-tech industries.
There are roughly 60,000 people working in Israeli agriculture, but only 18,000 to 19,000 farm owners. Within the country, between 20 percent and 30 percent of the farmers are Arab Israelis.
“We are trying to create opportunities for young people, to close the gap between agriculture and industry,” said Uri Marchaim, a biotechnology expert at the Migal Galilee Technology Center.
Marchaim, who briefly lived in Ohio while working at Battelle in the early 1980s, spoke to an Ohio trade delegation visiting Israel earlier this month.
The Galilee Technology Center works to find ways to develop the region’s economy, particularly agriculture, in a more scientific, high-tech way.
“We have to develop some kind of innovation strategy for the Galilee,” Marchaim said. “We have to find our niche, too.”
Progress? Parts of Israel are advanced technology-wise. Even in agriculture, regions have adopted protected agriculture systems, for example, enabling year-round products to meet foreign markets’ off-season demands.
But other areas cry out for help.
In the Galilee region, for example, 30 percent to 40 percent of the apple crop is lost to post-harvest damage and inadequate storage or handling, Marchaim said.
The region grows roughly 86 percent of Israel’s apple crop, he added, so the problem is big.
“We’re trying to find directions and solutions to things all of us knew for years, but didn’t do too much about,” Marchaim said.
Migal, which operates nine extension research farms, offers workshops and information to farmers on new technology, approaches and equipment. Producers also suggest research directions for the center, Marchaim said.
The center also provides information and services to the Galilee’s 29 kibbutzim that farm nearly 25,000 acres.
To build the region’s agriculture and keep it profitable enough to entice young farmers, the Galilee ministry of agriculture is pushing diversification from production agriculture, into agritourism and value-added operations like wineries and small cheese factories.
There’s also a high-tech component: composting manure and generating electricity from manure’s methane, or turning the nation’s irrigation expertise into worldwide consulting or management opportunities. The center has also helped develop a quality assurance process and inspection system, new mushroom production techniques, and cut flower enterprises.
National picture. The Israeli government and the Jewish Agency are also targeting two areas to establish new settlements (villages), the southern desert region of the Negev, and the Galilee region.
The program is hoping volunteers come forward to establish new farms with the lure of 40 dunams (10 acres). One source puts the program’s price tag at $200 million a year.
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Agricultural kibbutzim face identity crisis
By Susan Crowell
JERUSALEM, Israel – When U.S. residents think of farms in Israel, we often think of the kibbutz, or communal village.
While only 3 percent of the population today live in a kibbutz, the collective farm system helped build the Jewish nation, even before it became a state in 1948.
The first settlement members were the new country’s pioneers.
In a kibbutz, members have common ownership of collective production; income is pooled and equally distributed; all decisions are made by a majority vote.
The “moshav,” on the other hand, is also a rural farming village, but it’s based on a cooperative system from private family farms. Farmers own their own land, but often share ownership of production methods and services.
In the 1950s and ’60s, the moshav overtook the kibbutz as the dominant rural community and, as Israel shifted from socialism to capitalism, the kibbutz found itself in need of an overhaul.
Those kibbutzim (more than one kibbutz) who could, and did, change, are the strongest today.
But the trend was diversification outside of agriculture: spas, malls or industry.
Today only 15 percent of all kibbutz members are working in agriculture.

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