Israel is home to some of the world's most advanced agricultural research and its many achievements related to increasing crop yields, the high quality of its agricultural produce and its ability to react quickly to market needs are highly esteemed.
Growing Crops with Saline Water
One way to measure water salinity is based on electrical conductivity. Water contains many salts, including chloride, sodium and sulphate. The higher the salt content of the water, thus its electrical conductivity increases.
Numerous studies regarding the use of saline water for crop growing have been conducted by the Soil, Water and Environmental Sciences Institute of the Agricultural Research Organization (Volcani Center); by the Institutes for Applied Research at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Agriculture and at regional agricultural research and development centers such as the Ramat Negev R&D Center; by the late Israel Prize recipient Yoel de-Melech and his colleagues; and by Southern Arava Research and Development at Yotvata.
The Ramat Negev olive groves, which are irrigated with saline water and yield high quality oil, are a clear example of the results of such research. Various vegetables grown with saline water in greenhouses in the Arava and date orchards that grow in the Arava yield sweet crops that are mostly sold for export.
Irrigating with Reclaimed Water
Wastewater used to be considered as something that had to be removed, but today it is thought of as a resource that should be utilized to the fullest. Once treated in a purification facility, where the wastewater contamination is removed, one is left with high quality water that may be reused for agriculture and industry.
Israel operates a number of purification facilities which utilize various methods of purification. The purification process includes filtering the coarse waste, biological treatment through the use of bacteria that break down organic materials and separation of the bacteria (that accumulate into sludge). At the Dan Region Wastewater Treatment Facility the resultant reclaimed water is transferred to infiltration facilities, where it permeates deep into the ground and is filtrated naturally by the fine sand for a period of some 400 days. Then the water, which at that point is of drinking water quality, is transferred to the Negev and used for crop irrigation.
Some 75% of lsrael's reclaimed water is reused for agricultural irrigation, while the balance is returned to rivers and the sea. The Dan Region Wastewater Treatment Facility contributes to agriculture some 50% of Israel's total reclaimed water. In fact, it is the largest water recycling plant in the Middle East and one of the largest of its kind in the world. 70% of the fields in the Negev are irrigated by its product.
Israel has achieved great accomplishments in the use of reclaimed water, despite the fact that some of the water is of relatively low quality. This water is used to irrigate agricultural crops without adversely affecting the quality and quantity of the crop yields, and with only minimal harm to the soil and the environment. Thanks to cooperation among researchers, agricultural instructors and farmers who implement new technologies, Israel is a world leader in research and development relating to the use of reclaimed water for agriculture.
Improving Tomatoes through Breeding
The tomato, queen of the Israeli salad, originally came from the American continent. Spanish sailors brought it to Europe in the 16th century, where it was thought for many years to be poisonous and was grown solely as a decorative Plant. In the 19th century the tomato became one of the most commonly used vegetables in Mediterranean cuisine, as well as in other parts of the world.
For many years, Israeli-grown tomatoes were intended only for the local market, as their short shelf life did not allow them to be exported. Researchers from various Israeli research institutes sought a solution to this problem: the late Prof. Rafi Frankel and Dr. Dvora Lapushner of the Agricultural Research Organization Volcani Institute, Prof. Yosef Mizrahi of Ben Gurion University of the Negev, and Prof. Nahum Kedar (Israel Prize recipient), Dr. Ehud Koplewitz and Prof. Haim Rabinowitz of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Agriculture in Rehovot. Through intensive cultivation, they succeeded in creating tomatoes with a long shelf life, mostly for export but also for local consumption. Later, cherry tomatoes, cluster tomatoes and more were bred as well.
In recent years, most tomato breeding has been carried out by seed companies and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Agriculture, with efforts mainly centered on developing tomatoes that can tolerate viruses and disease, as well as on improving taste.
Israel is a world leader in the field of developing new and improved tomato varieties and some 40% of hothouse tomato crops in Europe and North Africa stem from seeds developed in Israel.