Although agriculture employs less than 5% of Israel's working population, and contributes only 6% of the national income, it plays a large role in Israeli culture and history. Through enormous expenditures of human labor, swamps were drained and desert lands irrigated.

In order to increase the amount of land under cultivation, the government has completed the Israeli National Water Carrier (INWC), which brings water from the Sea of Galilee.

Major agriculture crops include 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 command a high price on the world market.

Table of Contents

Field Crops
Citrus Fruit
Making The Desert Blossom As A Rose

Field Crops

In Israel some 215,000 hectares 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 are planted with summer crops such as cotton, sunflowers, chickpeas, green peas, beans, corn, groundnuts and watermelon for seeds.

Most field crops produce high yields and is of top quality.


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 is drip irrigated with Israel-made equipment.

Averaging 5.5 tons per hectare of raw cotton for the Acala variety, and 5 tons per hectare of raw cotton for the Pima variety, Israel's cotton yields are among the highest in the world. It is also of very high quality. The introduction of effluents for irrigation has greatly contributed to reducing growing costs. Cotton seeds - a by-product of the fibre - are used in the manufacture of animal feed.


Most of the 82,400 hectares of wheat are for grain, while some 18,000 hectares 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. Some 73% of the yield is intended for export.

Israeli-developed sunflower seeds are known for their excellent size and quality. Currently under development is a new variety of sunflower, cross-bred for resistance to Orobanchacae and Sunflower Rust disease, as well as particularly large sees with attractive colorings.

Because most sunflower crops are irrigated by the drip irrigation method, large amounts of water are saved.

Groundnuts (Peanuts):

Valued at $30 million, about 4,500 hectares 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, with a yield of 3 tons per hectare in 1995. The price of chickpeas on the world market is low, and growers are trying to increase the crop's value by developing unique varieties, including a very large white pea, as well as varieties that are resistant to disease.


The Agricultural sector in Israel consumes 1.2 billion cubic meters of water annually, of which 900 million is potable. The remaining water comes from effluents, flood water, salt water or saline wells.

Israel has developed a series of irrigation methods that are designed to make maximum use of its limited water resources.

Drip Irrigation:

Drip irrigation can supply from one liter to 20 liters per hour. With a peak water utilization rate of 95%, this method is suitable for intensive cultivation.

Intensive cultivation in green houses is accompanied b high water consumption. Drip irrigation systems designed for use in greenhouses use low-flow emitters that deliver 200cc per hour. The unique feature of this method is the uniform spread of moisture throughout the media, which also reduces the amount of drain-off water. Irrigation drippers have been developed for use with effluents. These drippers allow controlled water distribution and are clog-resistant. Filter traps installed inside the irrigation lines consist of a serrated plastic unit that sets up a whirling flow in the water passing through it, sweeping away any dirt and particles. This prevents blockages in the narrow water outlets of the drippers.

Buried Irrigation:

Drip irrigation laterals are buried at a depth of 50cms. The buried system is protected against infiltration by tiny roots around the area of the drippers by the introduction of Tarplan, a material that prevents sprouting near the dripper. Air valves that open when the water is turned off and allow air into the pipe prevent external dirt from being sucked into the dripper. Several types of drippers have been developed: Line drippers, regulated and unregulated fixed drippers, and integrated drippers pre-cast onto the wall of the irrigation lines.

Spray Irrigation

Through this method each tree is irrigated individually by its own water sprayer. A series of spray accessories have been developed which is intended mainly for orchards and greenhouses. Water consumption using spray irrigation ranges between 30 and 300 liters per hour. Efficiency of water utilization in spray irrigation reaches 85%.

Sprinkler Irrigation

Sprinklers are designed for crops that require irrigation of an entire area or field. The sprinklers achieve a water utilization rat of 70%-80% (as compared to open irrigation, which achieves only a 40% water utilization rate).

Operation of Irrigation Systems

All methods of irrigation can be computer operated. Computerization allows real-time operation, the performance of a series of operations, monitoring continued operation for many hours a day, precision, reliability and savings in manpower. When the system registers a deviation in the regular quantities of water or fertilizer, it shuts down automatically. Computerization also allows the operator to pre-program irrigation intervals. Systems including sensors to help determine desired irrigation intervals.

Moisture sensors are buried and provide information regarding moisture levels of the soil. Another type is the plant sensor that determines irrigation intervals by checking changes in the diameter of the stem or fruit. The sensor is connected directly to the computer, allowing for automatic operation of the irrigation systems when needed.


Greenhouse cultivation has been experiencing accelerated growth in recent years. Because of the substantial financial investment involved in the building and maintenance of greenhouses, they are largely used for high added value crops. Greenhouse development is particularly suited to the small family farm where there are constraints on available land and water. An average of 300 tons of tomatoes is grown per hectare per season, four times that harvested in open fields. In addition, plastic greenhouse structures have recently come into use for housing livestock, mainly chicken and fish.

Greenhouses in Israel are mainly used for growing flowers, vegetables, ornamental plants and spices. Recently experiments have been conducted to investigate the feasibility of greenhouse-grown fruit tees such as nectarines, peaches, loquats, grapes and bananas for commercial purposes, mainly for export.


The structure of greenhouses call for a rigid, heavy covering, giving it sufficient durability to prevent it from being destroyed by strong winds. Advanced greenhouse construction is used today in Israel. This includes curtains and skylights, and shade netting that automatically moves in reaction to sunlight. The new greenhouses are taller, reaching a height of 5 meters. This provides better ventilation. It also allows for trellising greenhouse plants such as tomatoes and cucumbers.

Israeli standards require that the greenhouses are able to withstand winds of up to 150 km/h, however, greenhouses actually meet far stricter standards and are exported to countries with more severe climate conditions.

Climate Control

Technology developed in Israel allows cooling of the greenhouse by day and heating by night with a minimal investment of energy. This is accomplished via a shower system that sprays uniform-size drops and is installed at one end of the greenhouse.

During the course of the day, these drops absorb excess heat from the greenhouse and store it until nighttime, when the heat is released. This method is particularly useful for ornamental plants, which require a high degree of humidity and a small temperature variation.

The Computerized Greenhouse

Computer hardware and software have been developed in Israel, which allows automatic control of the greenhouse water, fertilizer and climate systems. Software developers maintain close contacts with the growers in order to keep abreast of the latest developments in agricultural systems and to provide the most effective and advanced solutions.

Citrus Fruit

Citrus accounts for 7.1% of Israel's total agricultural produce.

In recent years, Israel has introduced new agrotechnologies into its citrus farming to facilitate improved operations, which includes the planting of new citrus groves in arid and semi-arid regions.

Varieties of Citrus

A wide variety of oranges, grapefruits and lemons, as well as a variety of more exotic citrus fruit 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.

A new brand has recently been developed - Environment Friendly Fruit. These fruit are environment friendly because they are grown with minimal use of chemicals to avoid interfering with the ecosystem or harming the environment.

Developing New Varieties

Efforts are presently being directed to the development of new citrus varieties that have a smaller seed content, a longer shelf-life, a pleasant appearance, and a long marketing season.

Some of the outstanding new varieties that have been developed are Winola, Ora, Mor, Nectar, Or and Rishon. The main varieties introduced from overseas include the Pomelit, Navel-Newhall, Pink Grapefruit, Ray-Ruby, and Pink Grapefruit Rio-Red.


A kibbutz is a cooperative settlement devoted to farming and governed by its members. kibbutzim (the plural of kibbutz) attract Christian and Jewish volunteers from around the world. A kibbutz can have as few as a 100 members or as many as 2,000.

The Zionist settlers founded the original kibbutzim. To abandon the Old World pressure for material success and to "return to the land" and live a simple life was the Zionist ideal. The Zionists believed in socialism and the self-governing kibbutz became the cornerstone of the Zionist hopes for Israel.

A kibbutz's funds, land, equipment, stock, and buildings are owned by all the kibbutzniks (the people who live on the kibbutz).

To decide how the kibbutz's income will be distributed, kibbutzniks elect committees and officers. Because jobs are rotated a kibbutznik will work at several different jobs in one year. Kibbutzniks do not receive a salary, but they are provided with food, lodging, clothing (usually dark blue shirts and shorts or pants) and other necessities.

Kibbutzniks eat together in a communal dining hall that is much like a school cafeteria.

Married kibbutzniks live in small houses, while single people and volunteers share small cottages. In some kibbutzim, mothers and fathers tend to their own children, whereas in others children are cared for by many adult kibbutzniks. Children eat, sleep, and stud in their own rooms, separated from the adults. Responsibilities come at an early age, as children are expected to have jobs and tend their own fields and crops. The children attend kibbutz schools that, while meeting national standards are independent of the state-run school system.

Making The Desert Blossom As A Rose

One of Israel's highest priorities has been to provide enough food for its population, and this has triggered off a massive and costly campaign to reclaim the Negev, which makes up 65% of the national land area. Although the initial prospects weren't encouraging, a turning point came in 1964 with the completion of the Israeli National Water Carrier (INWC). The INWC is an elaborate system of pipes, conduits and tunnels which was designed to carry water from the Sea of Galilee, in the far North, to the rain-starved areas of the center and the south. For the Negev itself, the scheme meant an additional 320 million cubic meters of water a year - a 75% increase.

By 1985, some 60,000 hectares were under cultivation and a one-time wasteland of sand and rock was yielding its own rich crop of fruit, vegetables, cereals and cotton.

Another vital element in the "greening" on the Negev has been the widespread use of new technology, especially drip irrigation.

But the key to long-term development lies deep below the desert itself, where vast deposits of water from the Ice Age lie buried. A small part of this underground reservoir has already been tapped, and Israeli scientists foresee as future in which the whole great Negev will flow with life- giving water.

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