Publications

- September 1, 2019: Vol. 6, Number 8

From drips to drones: Israeli agricultural innovation attracting international attention

by Mike Consol

More than five decades after pioneering water-saving drip irrigation systems, Israel continues to develop innovations that promise to drive the next agricultural revolution. While drip irrigation was born out of necessity, given Israel’s arid climate, the country’s latest innovations are addressing even more widespread problems, such as farm-
labor shortages and bee cultivation that aims to boost bee populations and crop yields.

The integration of technology and agriculture by Israeli companies was put on full display at the four-day Agriisrael conference in June, during which representatives from more than 40 countries watched Israeli startup companies display their technical prowess. One such enterprise was Tevel Aerobotics Technologies, a maker of airborne robots that “hand pick” fruit from trees — a critical innovation for farmers who have been hampered by the shrinking availability of field workers to harvest their produce. The company’s fleet of drones uses vision algorithms, orchard mapping and other data to autonomously pick apples and oranges from trees.

The Jerusalem Post quoted Tevel Aerobotics founder Yaniv Maor explaining that “farmers, growers and food companies don’t have enough people to pick their crops. If they don’t have the pickers, they don’t have revenue. We’re currently carrying out experiments in orchards in northern and central Israel, and the plan is to commercially deploy the technology next year in Israel, the United States and Europe.”

The shrinking number of field workers is not the only shortage faced by food producers, so is disappearing bee populations, critical to pollinating the human food supply. Tel Aviv and California-based BeeHero has developed a technology that aims to boost crop-yield by producing real-time beehive data and pollination intelligence. The company provides beekeepers with sensors installed inside beehives, which are combined with BeeHero’s algorithms to predict beehive disorders in real-time and mitigate the growing problem of colony collapse. That enables beekeepers to make adjustments to ensure hive well-being, the company says, and giving pollinators the ability to increase yields by an average of 30 percent.

Aiming to take the nation’s water conservation efforts to the next level is Manna Irrigation Intelligence. The company has already implemented its advanced irrigation recommendation system in more than 10 countries worldwide. Manna utilizes satellite imagery, hyper-local weather forecasts and crop models to provide growers with accurate “valve specific” recommendations regarding when and how much to irrigate. The company points out that irrigation sensors, though a terrific technology, are expensive and require installation, power and maintenance. By contrast, Manna CEO Eval Mor says, “We don’t touch the ground and you don’t need to install anything,” relying instead on satellites and weather services provided by its partners.

“The same system can serve a one-hectare grower in India and a very large coffee plantation of 500 hectares in Brazil,” Mor told The Jerusalem Post.

Helping drive Israel’s rise as a global food-production leader is an agricultural budget that devotes 17 percent of its funds to research and development.

Then again, Dr. Michal Levy, senior deputy director-general of agricultural innovation at the Agriculture Ministry, told The Post, “There is also the Israeli culture of chutzpah, being direct and not hesitating to combine forces with people in other disciplines to develop new technologies.”

 

Mike Consol (m.consol@irei.com) is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter @mikeconsol to read his latest postings.

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