During October 2009, I had the privilege of participating in a 10-day agriculture mission to Israel. The visit was organized by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (ODAFF) on the recommendation of Terry Peach, Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture. It focused on the Israeli greenhouse and plasticulture industry. The objective was to make recommendations based on what we learned in Israel to enhance the specialty crop sector of Oklahoma agriculture. I was invited to be a part of the delegation based on my high tunnel hoop house expertise.
Our delegation visited several government agricultural research stations located in the arid southern part of Israel. Some of the ongoing horticulture research projects being conducted include use of drip irrigation with poor quality (saline) water; the effect of colored plastic greenhouse film and shade cloth on insect pest disruption, crop yield and quality; the development of improved varieties for greenhouse and high tunnel hoop house; and shade house production. It is this type of forward-looking research that has enabled Israel to become self-sufficient in fruit and vegetable production.
Prior to the trip, I was aware of the extensive use of greenhouses and high tunnel hoop houses in Israel. For years, Israel has been a leader in greenhouse design and plastic film development. What I did not realize is the extent to which shade houses and net houses are used. The net houses are used on a wide spectrum of crops to screen out troublesome pests including the Mediterranean fruit fly and virus-vectoring pests such as the white fly. Shade fabric is not only used to cool vegetable, herb and floral crops, but also tree fruits.
The scope of tree fruit production grown under some type of protective covering was surprising. We visited with a grower located close to Nazareth who produces nectarines under red-colored shade fabric and in a gutter-connected high tunnel hoop house range. The grower shared that the use of red shade fabric has improved the quality of his nectarines and reduced irrigation water use. By locating a portion of his production in a high tunnel hoop house, he is able to obtain a premium price for early fruit sold directly to the public.
Based on our discussion with Israeli officials and our observations, we believe the following plasticulture technologies have potential for use in Oklahoma specialty crop production:
- using insect netting to reduce pest pressure and pesticide use;
- expanding the use of shade houses for summer production of heat-sensitive crops;
- using colored hoop house films and shade fabrics to enhance yields and repel insect pests; and
- using hoop houses for tree and small fruit production.
Based on this potential, work is underway to develop a coordinated effort involving government, university and nongovernmental organization stakeholders to conduct the following research projects:
- examine the effects of film color and shade fabric color on crop production and pest suppression;
- quantify the reduction of insect pests using different percentage insect screens; and
- application of hoop house systems for tree and small fruit production, emphasizing freeze avoidance.
Israel is a shining example of how government agriculture research and agribusiness can work together to make the desert "blossom as a rose." If Oklahoma can achieve even a fraction of what Israel has achieved in specialty crop production, we will realize our own miracle. Shalom!