Victorian political leader visits the Negev

December 11, 2013 by Ahuva Bar-Lev
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The Leader of the Labor Opposition party in Victoria has visited the Western Negev in Israel.

Daniel Andrews visited the Besor region 3 kms east of the Gaza border accompanied by his wife Catherine, his advisor Amber Setchell and the JNF’s Avi Gafni.

MP Daniel Andrews (center) tours the Besor R&D with his wife Catherine (far right),
accompanied by R&D staffer Liana Granot (left). Photo: Tania Susskind

MP Daniel Andrews (center) tours the Besor R&D with his wife Catherine (far right),
accompanied by R&D staffer Liana Granot (left). Photo: Tania Susskind

He said: “We had heard about Israel’s cutting-edge agricultural innovations at the JNF Australia event in Melbourne, but there’s nothing like seeing it here firsthand.”

There are eight R&D stations in Israel, five of them in southern Israel. The research and development stations work on finding practical solutions for agricultural issues that are commonplace for local desert farmers, as well as developing advanced production technologies and the introducing of new agricultural products. KKL-JNF, with the help of its friends worldwide, finances close to 50% of Israel’s R&D stations.

 R&D staff member Liana Granot greeted the small group and said that “eight R&D stations may seem like a lot for such a small country, but they’re actually quite necessary due to the extreme differences in climate in various parts of the country. Agriculture began in this area in 1970, and the Besor R&D station was opened in 1977. There are now over 125,000 acres that are cultivated in the Western Negev, and greenhouse agriculture is very widespread. The advantage of greenhouses is that their growing season is twelve months long and there is much greater control of the different variables that affect plant growth. The research we do here is for the benefit of the local farmers, and we are in constant communication with them.

“Since the temperatures in the Western Negev are very high during the summer months, the R&D is always looking for ways to lower temperatures in the greenhouses. When temperatures are lowered by as little as 3 degrees, it can almost double the yield. Water supply is also a major problem here, so water conservation is another very important field of research,” Liana concluded.

The R&D station has 50 dunams of greenhouses, and the first greenhouse the group visited had 36 various species of tomatoes that were being tested. Tomatoes are the region’s leading crop, and 58% of Israel’s tomatoes are grown here for export and for the local market. Growing the tomato plants vertically rather than on the ground increased yields from 12 to 36 tons per duman. “That’s a lot of tomatoes,” Catherine remarked, when she saw the vines bursting with red and green cherry tomatoes, “and they’re really gorgeous.”

The next greenhouse was where peppers, the region’s second largest crop, are being tested. Liana explained that all peppers start out green, and then different strains turn into different colors – red, yellow and orange. They are sprayed against diseases, while pest control is mainly biological.

Tasting the produce of the R&D greenhouses at an introductory meeting. Photo: Tania Susskind

Tasting the produce of the R&D greenhouses at an introductory meeting. Photo: Tania Susskind

In the flower shelf-life measuring room. Photo: Tania Susskind

In the flower shelf-life measuring room. Photo: Tania Susskind

MP Andrews was very impressed with the unique agricultural technologies at work here. “Victoria is not particularly rich in natural resources, so we invest a lot in hi-tech, information technology, bio-science and intellectual resources, so I think we have a lot to learn and to share with Israel,” he said.  “On this visit, we were at the Weizmann Institute, Tel Aviv University and Ben Gurion University in the Negev. Before coming here, we were in Sderot, and we couldn’t help but admire the bravery and the fortitude of the people who live there.

“Victoria has a large Jewish community, and I’m familiar with KKL-JNF from back home. JNF Australia has a major dinner every year, where they showcase KKL-JNF activities. Last year’s guest of honor was Ron Prosor, who is now Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, and he gave a rundown on strategic issues.”

 The group proceeded to a special room where the shelf life of flowers is measured. MP Andrews was quite amazed to see Australian wax flowers there: “Australian wax flowers in the Western Negev desert in Israel? That’s really unbelievable.”

The visit concluded at a greenhouse full of hanging strawberries, a special technique developed at the R&D that prevents disease, makes harvesting much easier and produces out-of season strawberries that can fetch prices many times higher than in season. Catherine said that she had some experience picking traditionally grown strawberries, “and the bugs just loved eating them on the ground. What a brilliant idea!”

“This visit has been impressive and important,” MP Andrews said, at the end of his visit, “and Liana’s presentation was clear and concise. I look forward to future cooperation between our two countries.”

 

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