Perhaps the most innovative development in water utilization has been drip irrigation, conceived in Israel some 35 years ago. Today, networks of plastic pipes with small openings for each plant or tree are strategically placed across fields. Via the drippers, controlled amounts of fertilizer can be pumped through the irrigation pipes to the plants a system known as "fertigation".
Traditionally, drip irrigation has been used in regions where water is scarce, but it has also been effective where rainfall is high because of its precision. For example, experiments in Northern California in "precision" irrigation caused some types of tree to grow three times faster. Fast-growing trees can increase profits for timber growers and at the same time minimize environmental damage by reducing the number of trees that need to be felled.
Half a dozen Israeli companies sell plastic piping and a full range of accessories for drip irrigation. Many also specialize in designing customized irrigation systems for gardens, parks, farms and entire regions, installing them and then providing consultation and maintenance. Exports of irrigation equipment totaled almost $300 million in 1998.
Other types of irrigation include: pressure irrigation methods; buried irrigation, which prevents infiltration by tiny roots; spray irrigation, which is suitable for orchards; and sprinklers used for entire fields. These systems can be very simple or high-tech. Options range from the basic turn on/off variety with volume clocks, to more sophisticated computerized systems, which include sensors to monitor the moisture level of the soil and check changes in the diameter of the stem or fruit. Other accessories include filter traps to sweep dirt away and low flow drip emitters for soil-less media in greenhouses. Minute or ultra-low-rate (ULR) irrigation methods have been developed to apply water at rates of less than one millimeter per hour.
Bugs at Bay
Plagues of insects, fungi and weeds beset farmers worldwide, and Israeli companies have developed a range of pesticides and herbicides as well as non-chemical and biological control methods. Israel is home to the world's largest producer of generic agro-chemicals. In 1999, Israel exported over $117 million worth of these pesticides and growth regulators.
Manufacturers produce large quantities of methyl bromide and formaline for disinfecting the soil. Environmentally friendly detergents, which coat leaves, have been developed to create a physical barrier between the parasite and the leaf without harming the leaf. Fungicides to prevent rotting in grapes as well as chemicals to combat pests in citrus fruit and powdery mildew in groves and vineyards are also produced. Other recent developments include a defoliant for cotton and herbicides for early treatment of weeds.
With environmental protection in mind, biological pesticides have been developed. Natural predators, which wipe out a particular pest without damaging the crop itself, are also cultivated. One kibbutz breeds tiny spiders, which prey on mites that can destroy strawberries, and exports them by the million to California. A Jerusalem-based biotechnology company developed fungi designed to attack powdery mildew, and bacteria to destroy moths. Another company developed a polyethylene film, which acts as an insect repellent by blocking ultra-violet rays.
The Dead Sea region, which provides bromine for pesticides, is also rich in potassium, phosphor and magnesium, which are ingredients for agricultural fertilizers. Israel exports both ready-to-use fertilizers and raw materials to manufacture fertilizer worldwide.
Foliage fertilizers from potassium phosphate, potassium sulfide and nitrogen potassium phosphate are manufactured locally. Israel is also one of the world's largest producers of potassium nitrate, a highly soluble fertilizer suitable for a variety of plants and crops. Two additional highly soluble fertilizers, mono-ammonium phosphate and mono-potassium phosphate, are also produced.
Fertigation has led to the development of a new generation of soluble fertilizers for injection into irrigation systems. Basic chemicals such as nitrogen or ammoniac nitrogen with trace elements of iron, quartz, manganese and copper, which enrich the soil and enhance the growth of plants, have been combined to develop soluble fertilizers.
Greenhouses for Hot Climates