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201809 Fresh Quarterly Issue 02 06 Making The Desert Bloom
Issue TwoSeptember 2018

Making the desert bloom

A group of nine South Africans visited Israel on their way to the 30th International Horticultural Symposium in Istanbul, here’s what they learned about the Israelis’ irrigation practices. By Wiehann Steyn.

Nine South African water pilgrims on their way to Istanbul, took a detour to Israel to learn more about the nation’s irrigation practices.

While these fruit industry representatives, including myself, Hugh Campbell and Xolani Siboza of Hortgro, Karen Theron of Stellenbosch University, Hannes Halgryn, Keith Bradley and Angelique Zeelie of Fruitways, Tobie van Rooyen of ProCrop, and Abie Vorster of Netafim, were on our way to the 30th International Horticultural Symposium held in Istanbul from 12 to 16 August we couldn’t pass up the chance to learn from this water-scarce Mediterranean country.

We hoped to learn more about the exemplary management of water, precision irrigation and irrigation innovation for which the Israelis are so well known. Along the way, we also visited pome and stone fruit orchards, low chill breeding programmes and horticultural scientists. Here follows a list of the key take home messages around the water issues stemming from the visit.

  1. Water should be managed as a commodity that has value. When water has to be bought and can be sold, people are more likely to treat it as a resource from which the maximum value should be extracted. This ensures efficient water use at national, municipal, farm and household level—Prof Eilon Adar, Head of the Zuckerberg Water Research Institute, Ben Gurion University in the Negev desert.
  2. Underground water is connected, and boreholes should be coordinated at catchment level—Prof Eilon Adar. We need a bottom-up approach for ground water management at local catchment level.
  3. While it is important to optimise water use and to save water, we need to secure more water for the future, for example by recycling of water. 80% of municipal water in Israel is recycled and sold to agriculture.
  4. Recycled water is an untapped resource in South Africa. There might be opportunities for agricultural communities surrounding rural towns to invest in recycling and to thereby secure another source of irrigation water while helping the municipality to manage sewage.
  5. I only saw drip wherever we went in Israel. Israeli summer conditions are similar to ours, although the humidity seems to be higher. Drip irrigation undoubtedly requires more intensive management, but we surely should be able to make it work anywhere in our industry, in fact, we may need to make it work.
  6. Israel accepted its water limitations but had the dream of “making the desert bloom.” The current drought in the Western and Eastern Cape is a wakeup call that we require the same urgency to deal with our new and future reality of water limitation. The belief that “everything will be ok in the end” or that “they” (whoever they me be) should sort out our water problems is misplaced and unrealistic.
  7. Midday stem water potential is commonly used in Israel to irrigate according to the plant’s needs—Prof Amos Naor of the Migal Galilee research institute. It makes a lot of sense to measure the patient’s vital statistics rather than assessing his health from the condition of his shoes. The new continuous logging stem water potential probes developed by Saturas is an exciting development that may have us determine plant water needs and irrigate according to plant water status rather than indirectly through assessing soil water status.

Image: The Sea of Galilee.

Supplied by Wiehann Steyn.

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