Israel’s world potato lessons

Adama has a rich heritage in agriculture and the company’s origins go back more than 70 years. In this time farmers in the region have been transforming the way they farm and encouraging the desert to bloom.

Agriculture was a key focus for the newly created state of Israel which began life in 1948. Makhteshim and Agan were 2 companies to emerge in this drive for more production. In 1997 they joined to become one company called Makhteshim Agan, which rebranded and became Adama in 2014.

One of the crops that Israeli farmers focused on growing was potatoes. It may seem a strange choice as Israel is one of the driest countries on earth averaging just 435mm¹ of rain a year.  Potatoes are around 80% water, however they are one of the most water efficient crops using 900 litres² to produce a kilogram of crop. This compares with 3,400 litres² for rice.

To get the 1,000 million cubic meters of water³ that Israeli farmers need every year, the government has invested in technology that desalinates seawater and recycles used water. The country now recycles a world-beating 75% of its water³ and according to a recent article, is the world leader in recycling and reusing wastewater for agriculture. As a result, this has allowed the country to grow 16,500 hectares of potatoes producing 625,000 tonnes³. Around 40% of this total is exported, 43% consumed in the country, 13% processed and the remainder grown for seed³.

Israel has the all-year round warmth that European and North American potato growing regions lack. This allows growers to produce two harvests of potatoes. The first is harvested from April to June, which allows exports to be shipped to European markets looking for early potatoes, while a September to November crop means that local markets can enjoy potatoes over the winter period. In 2015 Israel exported 140,000 tonnes of potatoes to the EU, although that figure compares to around 200,000 tonnes at the start of the decade⁴. Russia is an important market, according to the volume of its own supplies. Israeli growers benefited from strong demand in 2014 when low domestic supplies and a ban on EU potato imports into Russia pushed demand up to 80,000 tonnes. However, in 2015 demand slipped by half to 40,000 tonnes because of higher supplies of Russian potatoes⁴.

Nuki Neufeld, marketing manager at potato company Yaham admits that Israel is also under threat from competition from other countries in the Southern Mediterranean region:

"We have to compete with countries like Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt who supply their products during the same time span and often at a lower price."

The company has recently entered into a joint venture with French fruit and vegetable company Compagnie Fruitiere with the aim of using its logistics and marketing network to ship and promote Israeli potatoes.

Growing potatoes in Israel without irrigation is impossible, but that means there is always the risk of blight, so using fungicides is essential. The pressure of this most damaging of potato diseases has led to Adama developing late blight protection at its Neot Hovav research facility in Israel. Crop manager at Adama, Olaf van Campen says:
“Our knowledge and experience of the disease has allowed us to develop the fungicide Banjo Forte, which is the mixture of two active ingredients: dimethomorph and fluazinam. Both are established substances, and when combined in a special formulation, they provide dual action efficacy against late blight.”

The intensity of production in Israel means there is a risk of proliferation of pests such as nematodes. Again, this is an area that Adama has focused on and its innovative nematicide Nimitz gained registration in the Israeli market in 2015, as well as in other markets worldwide. The experience that Israeli farmers have gained over the years in producing potatoes and the experience that Adama has in protecting them means Israel is in a good position to capture sales in a growing world potato market. It also means that these skills can be used in other dry parts of the world that are looking to potatoes as a way of feeding their growing populations.

¹ World Bank
² Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition
³ Adama

Isreal Potato Lessons - Article - Spray
Image courtesy of World Potato Markets