Volume 14 Issue 3 March

Israeli Innovation

By Kris Polly

I am not sure what I expected to see in Israel, but what I saw was not what I expected. For example, Jerusalem receives 24 inches of rain a year—an amount that is surprising to many people from the western United States and is more than we receive on our family farm in Nebraska. In more ways than one, Water Strategies’ December 2022 Israel Water and Education Trade Tour covered Israel “from Dan to Beersheba,” to use the ancient phrase that refers to the totality of the land of Israel. For one thing, we really did visit the ruins of the biblical city of Dan in the north of Israel and Kibbutz Hatzerim, located on the outskirts of Beersheba, in the south, and in fact, we went all the way to Eilat on the Red Sea. For another, we saw a huge variety of sights, including ancient ruins, thriving and innovative kibbutz communities, agricultural research centers, religious sites, big cities, and beautiful landscapes. Keep in mind that the country is nearly 290 miles long and 85 miles wide at its widest point. We drove approximately 400 miles on our tour bus, so there is a great deal to see in a relatively small space. Throughout, we were impressed by the exceptionally resourceful can-do spirit that Israelis bring to everything from turning deserts into agricultural export powerhouses to standing up five desalination plants within a decade.

This entire issue is dedicated to our Israel tour and some of the water leaders we met through it. First, we feature the thoughts of some of our tour participants on what they saw and learned. There’s also a map of the full itinerary of our very busy 9 days in Israel.

Then, we turn to Israel’s innovative agricultural industry. To start, we interview Yossi Ingber, a resident of Kibbutz Magal, one of the sites we visited, about his long career with the pioneering drip irrigation company Netafim.

Next, we turn to another kibbutz- based company, beneficial insect producer BioBee Sde Eliyahu. Vice President of Sales and Marketing Shachar Carmi explains the concept behind the business and tells us about some of the creatures BioBee produces and sells.

The Central and Northern Arava Research and Development Center supports producers in the Arava Desert region of Israel with research into crops, growing methods, and water use. The center’s director, Aylon Gadiel, tells us more about the agricultural feats achieved in the area—including the use of saline groundwater mixes to grow tomatoes, melons, and even bananas.

Kibbutz Lotan is another agricultural community based in the Arava region. We speak with Mike Kaplin, the director and founder of Lotan’s Center for Creative Ecology, and Mark Naveh, the center’s program director, about sustainable farming and living in this challenging climate.

The Jewish National Fund is a 120-year-old nongovernmental organization that works on land reclamation and reforestation, particularly in the Negev Desert in southern Israel. We speak with Gil Siaki, the head of the afforestation division in the organization’s southern region, about how simple structures like earthen embankments can capitalize on the desert’s occasional rains to support trees and wildlife. Finally, we turn to Kibbutz Hatzerim, the original home of Netafim, and learn about its impressive jojoba-growing operation. Netafim Senior Advisor Naty Barak tells us about Kibbutz Hatzerim’s innovative growing, irrigation, and harvesting methods.

There is much to learn from Israeli agriculture, but two things stand out. The first is its technological innovation. Many devices and practices we use in the United States today—drip irrigation perhaps foremost among them—were invented in small agricultural communities in Israel. The second is the refusal to be dissuaded by difficult conditions. The Arava and Negev Deserts are arid and forbidding, but Israeli tenacity has turned them into export powerhouses. There is much to learn from these examples, and I hope this issue helps you do just that. IL

Kris Polly is the editor-in-chief of Irrigation Leader magazine and the president of Water Strategies LLC, a government relations firm he began in February 2009 for the purpose of representing and guiding water, power, and agricultural entities in their dealings with Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal government agencies. He may be contacted at kris.polly@waterstrategies.com.