Between revival and security, between agriculture and thirst
The challenges that face farmers exceed the returns, and they hang by a thread on a steep slope. As an agronomist and as Agricultural Procurement Manager at Strauss, most of my time is devoted to thought on how to improve the situation from where I stand
What do I have and what would I like to have? The desire and urge to aspire and to be better has always been in our blood and in our thoughts with the goal of achieving a better life and has driven society in our tiny country to achievements in the hi-tech, pharmaceutical and biotech industries.
A great deal of work has also been done in making the transition from traditional to smart faming, and our technological footprint has earned Israel world renown as a tech leader for better farming in a great many areas such as fertilizing, control, monitoring, boosting crop yields, reducing the use of pesticides, cultivating new species, etc.
But as Ben Gurion said, “You cannot buy a homeland for money or conquer it with a sword; you have to create it by the sweat of your brow”. Sustainable agriculture is rooted in a many-year-long tradition. Veteran farmers who bequeathed their experience, acquired through Sisyphean labor, self-education and backbreaking work throughout their lives based on a pioneering vision that the foundation for a strong homeland is to protect its borders, and for the population living in it to prosper thanks to the agricultural produce they grow.
A flourishing agriculture has been intertwined in the history of the Jewish heritage in the Land of Israel since ancient times, through the building of settlements dedicated to working the land and the creation of a new social stratum known as the “Israeli farmer”, the picture etched in the imagination of many – a man standing in the blazing sun, his eyes blinded, his sunburned and scratched hand grasping a dusty hoe and a hat on his head – greatly inspired those who dared to choose this as their life’s work.
If we roll up the poster and look out the window, we will see a (slightly) different reality today: the challenges that face farmers exceed the returns, and growers hang by a thread on a steep slope – crop growing areas are diminishing, rain regimes are volatile (from drought to floods), costs are rising, the difference between fruit and vegetable prices in the field and their prices in the stores is increasing, there is a growing labor shortage, and what appears to be the most serious problem is that the younger generation has no interest in entering the profession after seeing the older generation bowing beneath the burden without any real returns as justification. If, in the 1950s, some 20% of the population were farmers, today they account for around only 2% of the population, and their voice is no longer heard.
As an agronomist and as Agricultural Procurement Manager at Strauss, most of my time is devoted to thought on how to improve the situation from where I stand, as part of my responsibility as the representative of a company that works hard to advance various population groups and elevate them to the status they deserve. It starts with a bond with the land, continues through personal relationships with growers, and culminates in insistence on top-quality produce and fair trade. In the past few years we have almost completely assimilated the purchase of agricultural produce directly from the grower without the involvement of produce brokers, with the goal of creating mutual stability.
One of the problems in Israeli agriculture is that produce is grown without any real assurance that the fresh produce will be marketed, and one way of dealing with the uncertainty is by creating a format in which “every plant has a purpose”, and thus, the mutual commitment to marketing the produce generates long-term stability and, of course, saves a great deal of waste, wasted resources, and assures agricultural produce of uncompromising quality.
For inspiration, I like listening to those who see life in the way that is purest: children. After a class activity we had organized (after all, there are not many dads who are agronomists…) I wanted to hear from the children who would like to be a farmer. When I asked them every hand was raised. Let’s hope things will be the same when they grow up.
The period in which buds become flowers, with Independence Day almost here, is an exciting one. Spring has arrived and with it, the dream of better times for farming – that crops and revenues will grow, and the number of people who insist on top-quality fresh Israeli vegetable produce will grow too, thus restoring our agriculture to its former pride of place and glory.