Israel harnesses technology to assist farmers

Amid the escalating challenges posed by climate change and global population growth, Israeli technology offers an array of inventions and advanced tools to assist farmers in adapting.

In a central Israeli kibbutz’s avocado orchard, a tractor moves slowly through the trees, towing a device. Attached to the mobile platform are paddle-like extensions, resembling flags, which gently stroke the plants using an electrostatic charge to draw pollen and allow it to rub off onto the adjacent rows of trees.

Thai Sade, the founder and CEO of Israeli company BloomX, explains that such artificial pollination can significantly enhance crop yields, catering to the needs of the world’s expanding population. BloomX employs algorithms to predict the optimal time for pollination, maximizing its effectiveness.

Sade emphasizes the importance of addressing the problems faced today and those anticipated to worsen in the future. With the scarcity of pollinating insects and the risks posed to them by global warming, BloomX’s pollination technique offers a solution. Sade points out that it is far more cost-effective to improve the utilization of existing orchards rather than establish new ones.

At Eyal kibbutz, where avocado, wheat, and persimmon production is overseen by Ofri Yongrman Sela, the challenge of managing pollination is particularly demanding. While honey bees play a vital role in avocado tree pollination, their unpredictable presence makes it difficult to rely solely on them. Implementing BloomX’s technology alongside the bees has resulted in yield increases of up to 40 percent.

Yongrman Sela, standing amidst the avocado trees, acknowledges the rapid changes witnessed in the agriculture sector over the past decade. He highlights the integration of sensors for measuring soil parameters, drones, and big data, stating that technology has permeated every aspect of agriculture.

A recent report by Start-Up Nation Central, a non-governmental organization promoting Israeli technology, identifies over 500 agri-tech companies in Israel. Shmuel Friedman, formerly an agriculture ministry official and currently providing agricultural consultancy through his company Green Wadi to countries in Africa, Asia, and the Gulf, attests to the demand for Israeli agricultural expertise and technology. He notes that Israel’s agricultural experience combined with its innovative tech sector yields numerous agricultural technologies that can support farmers in the future.

Friedman identifies the scarcity of labor as one of the major challenges in agriculture, particularly in developed countries. He emphasizes the need for alternatives such as robots or machines that can replace human labor.

Recognizing the declining availability of workers, Yanir Maor founded and leads Tevel, a company employing drones for fruit picking. Maor observed the shortage of labor more than a decade ago while watching a television program in which only one person remained to pick fruit among 20 Israelis, including the show’s host.

According to Maor, as the population increases and consumption rises, the demand for crops will escalate while the availability of workers dwindles. To address this growing gap, robotics are essential. Tevel’s system involves eight drones connected to a platform that utilizes AI and machine vision to analyze fruit images captured by the drones’ cameras. This analysis determines the ripeness of the fruit, sugar content, and identifies any diseases. The drones gently suction the fruit from the branches and place it in bins, with human supervision primarily for operational oversight.

Tevel’s technology is already deployed in Israel, the United States, Italy, and Chile, and is compatible with over 40 different varieties of apples, peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, and pears. Maor emphasizes the system’s autonomy in decision-making, fruit selection based on color, approach, and detachment.

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