Farming and agricultural production in Israel, which is an industrial country, accounts for about 2 to 3 percent of the GNP. Major produce includes vegetables, cotton, beef, poultry and dairy products, and citrus and other fruits. Citrus fruits are the country’s main export crops. Israel’s soil and climate give the fruit an appearance and flavor that commands a high price on the world market.
Israel’s total exports for 1999, in US dollars, was over $25 billion. Exports went to the following regions:
North America (including the USA, Canada and Mexico) $9.4 billion (36.8%)
Latin America $648 million (2.5%)
Africa $468 million (1.8%)
Oceania $329 million (0.3%)
EFTA $405 million (4.6%)
EU $7.6 billion (29.7%)
Central & Eastern Europe $1.2 billion (4.7%)
Asia $4.1 billion (16%)
Unclassified $1.4 billion (5.5%)
The agricultural workforce in Israel is small: only 2.5% of the population is engaged in agriculture, compared with 20% some 25 years ago. Farming in Israel is highly sophisticated, capital intensive, and based on a high level of technology. One-third of the agricultural production is for export, while two-thirds of the production is for the local market.
The State of Israel covers an area of approximately 20,000 sq. km. (approximately 12,000 sq. miles) but only 20% of it is arable land. Sixty percent of Israel is desert and just 10% of the population lives there. The remaining 40% of the country is semi-arid land. It is densely populated, containing 90% of the population.
In Israel, around 215,000 hectares (531,000 acres) of land are devoted to field crops, 156,000 of which are winter crops such as wheat for grain and silage, hay, legumes for seeds, and safflower for oil.
60,000 hectares (148,000 acres) are planted with summer crops such as cotton, sunflowers, chickpeas, green peas, beans, corn, groundnuts and watermelon for seeds.
The value of cotton production for 1997 was $107 million, with most of the crop sold in advance on the futures market. Almost the entire cotton crop of 28,570 hectares (70,600 acres) is drip irrigated with Israeli-made equipment.
Most of the 82,400 hectares (204,000 acres) of wheat are for grain, while some 18,000 hectares (44,500 acres) are for silage, providing a major roughage ingredient in the feed for dairy herds. Depending on the amount of annual rainfall, between 2.5 and 4.2 tons of grain are harvested per hectare. Most of this grain is used domestically, mainly for bread. Because winter wheat is largely a non-irrigated crop, the yields are dependent on the amount of rainfall and its distribution throughout the winter months. As wheat is grown in the dry southern regions of the country, it enables extensive use of agricultural land.
In 1997 sunflowers for seeds covered an area of about 10,200 hectares (25,200 acres). Some 73% of the yield is intended for export. Israeli-developed sunflower seeds are known for their excellent size and quality.
Valued at $30 million, about 4,500 hectares (11,100 acres) of groundnuts are grown. Characterized by a very large nut, about half of Israel’s groundnuts are exported and sold in their shells for specialty nut markets.
Israel’s chickpea crop covers an area of about 5,200 hectares (12,800 acres), with a yield of 3 tons per hectare in 1995.
Citrus accounts for 7.1% of Israel’s total agricultural output.
A wide variety of oranges, grapefruits and lemons, as well as a variety of more exotic citrus fruits are being marketed by Israel. Israel’s major citrus product by volume is the traditional Shamouti orange. Other varieties of oranges exported include the Valencia Late and Navel. The White Grapefruit, originally grown in inland valleys, is increasingly being replaced by the Sunrise variety, whose peel and meat have a red tint. The Sweetie is an additional variety of grapefruit that is gaining in popularity. It is the result of a cross between the grapefruit and the pomelo. Its peel stays green, and this differentiates it from other grapefruits. Israel also produces a variety of pink grapefruits. Also produced by Israel are exotic varieties of citrus such as the lime, kumquat (Chinese orange), limquat (small juicy lemon) and the red or white pomelo.
Soil and plants
Due to the use of fertigation, sand dunes are being used to produce crops such as citrus, avocado, mango, vegetables and flowers. Under desert conditions, in which marginal land and lack of water are dominant, specially adapted crops can be grown successfully. The desert is characterized by high heat radiation and adequate temperatures during the winter for intensive greenhouse production of off-season crops – mainly vegetables, fruit and flowers for export to the European market. Water supply, radiation, temperature, air humidity, nutrition and carbon dioxide levels are fully controlled.
Agriculture in Israel is very effective, and is able to cover about 75% of domestic needs, despite the limited land available.