September 29, 2003, Updated September 12, 2012

The PhyTalk system uses different sized sensors for measuring growth, sap flow, and moisture in a leaf, stem, and fruit.Beyond the familiar cliché of making the desert bloom, Israeli agricultural know-how has earned it an indisputable place at the forefront of the agriculture industry. Israel is a recognized leader in the fields of water irrigation and control, developing new seeds and plants, dairy and poultry production.

Over 6500 visitors from abroad including 30 ministers of agriculture from around world recently came to view the latest in Israeli agricultural technology at the showcase Agritech 2003.

“Israeli agriculture is innovative, with a lot of foresight into the future of agriculture,” said Terry Peach, Secretary of Agriculture for the state of Oklahoma.

The aptly named Peach was in the midst of a visit to Israel when he attended the 4 day event which took place in Tel Aviv. “I was particularly impressed with the systems for efficient use of water, and was interested in the organic and bio farming. We also visited four different companies that make net greenhouses,” said Peach.

Such greenhouses contain nets that use the light spectrum in shades of blue, red, pearl, and gray, enabling Israeli farmers to control growth characteristics of plants in greenhouses.

Engineers spent more than eight years on research and development, collecting data on 60 crops to develop the ChromatiNet series marketed by the Israeli company Polysack, a kibbutz industry. The gray net induces additional branches, thereby raising yields; the blue net induces short branches – compact plants good for packing and export. The pearl-colored net accelerates plant growth and increases the number of stems; the red net helps early flowering and overall growth.

Polysack also manufactures Aluminet thermo-reflective screens for climate control. It first began developing technology to battle Israel’s scorching sun and long dry summer in 1974. All its products are environmentally friendly.

Reducing the need for pesticides, a variety of nets that are effective against insects and viruses have been patented and manufactured by Klayman Meteor. Spider-Net and BioNet are two new products from the company whose motto is: “The best nets for clean agriculture.” And, because plants are harmed in the same way as humans by solar radiation, the company also produces shade nets which can also regulate the ripening time of a plant and protect from birds, flies, and other pests. The nets result in cost savings and increased yield per acre.

Another product on display at Agritech was a smart new biological fertilizer, KF-20, introduced by VGI Israel. Composed of all-natural ingredients that are immediately absorbed by all plants, it feeds the soil as well as the plant.

“Within seven hours the plant absorbs all the fertilizer,” said Avi Sela, whose father desert agricultural specialist Shaul Sela headed the development of the product.

“One-half a liter of the concentrate is all that is needed for a dunam (1/4 acre),” said Sela. Two liters of concentrate replaces a ton of fertilizer.

VGI believes that that its product increases crop yield and growth, and results in better-tasting fruits and vegetables. “You can tell when VGI was used on grapes,” said Sela

Motorola Israel has a world-class reputation for developing and manufacturing water-saving irrigation systems that are used around the world. Its latest product Radio Piccolo XR is a new remote terminal which can operate at a distance of 3 km. It communicates via an interface to IRRInet-XL, the company’s water and irrigation control system that is used for municipal water control, landscapes, city parks and highway irrigation needs, as well as computerized water distribution (pumping stations, reservoirs), supply projects in rural areas.

Also on display at the exhibition were the achievements of the Israeli dairy industry, which has one of the highest yields of milk in the world, producing and processing over 1000 different milk products a year. Proudly displayed at the Exhibition was the Gold Medal Prize recently awarded by the America Testing Institute and the Culinary Institute to Israeli feta goat cheese which is distributed in the U.S. by Arthur Schuman, Inc.

Cow cooling is one way to ensure that milk production is not detrimentally effected by summer heat. Two Israeli scientists discovered that cows, just like people, are affected by the weather. Introduced to California dairy farmers two months ago, Polak Brothers’ new CowKool misting system, raised summer milk yields 10%.

Monitoring bovine health and yields is a major task for large dairy farmers with herds in the thousands. A cow is more active when it is in heat observed experts of cows on Kibbutz Afikim. Afimilk uses a pedometer to measure heat and activity which pinpoint the best time for insemination. Its computerized system provides management of production, fertility, and health of herds.

“Using electronic sensors in tags on the collars, or ears of a cow is a new way of monitoring cows,” said Ori Inbar of SCR. Data from the tag that measures the cow’s daily activity – running, playing, and when they are in heat – is picked up by infra-red communication when the cow enters the milking stand and is then relayed to a central computer. The company has one of the most sophisticated high tech dairy cow monitoring systems on the market, claiming 20 percent increase in milk yield.

A new sensor that measures rumination time, the time it takes for the cow to chew and digest its cud, was introduced at Agritech. Lack of fiber in the cow’s diet can result in reduced rumination rate – signs of loss of appetite, sickness – and result in decreased milk production. Developed at a cost of $1 million by Vocal Tag , this important indicator expected within the year, provides vital information for the dairy on feeding quality and quantity, and cow health. SCR is beginning to develop a new generation of products for sheep and goat herds.

Plants also benefit by close observations. Russian scientist Yuri Ton developed sensors that could pick up signs of stress in plants – clear signs that they need water -before they were visible, and send out an electronic warning. Ton was recently named by Cambridge as one of the top 2000 scientists of the last century. Using different sized sensors for measuring growth, sap flow, and moisture in a leaf, stem, and fruit (little for cherry tomatoes and grapes) the PhyTalk system has been developed and marketed by PhyTech in Yad Mordechai.

“The PhyTech system is the first system developed to monitor the physiological conditions of plants,” said Dr. Oded Sagee, VP of Business Development (formerly Chief of Citrus at Volcani, Israel’s Agricultural Research Center.) The data is transmitted to a concentrator unit and then via wireless to a PC for easy access.

“I am now seeing growth I never dreamed of,” wrote Rick Hornback of Baseline Trees in Arizona in June. “Baseline Trees is the buzz of the town.”

His nurseries’ trees (including pears and plums) remained lush despite high temperatures and hot winds. PhyTalk helped the nursery through a near disaster when it was installing a new pond.

“I was told that the trees looked OK. We thought the sensor was faulty when it indicated that the water valves were turned off. After a second inspection, we found that the soil mix was bone dry,” said Hornback.

The Oklahoma delegation spent a half a day at PhyTech. They were fascinated by the “talking plants” and impressed with savings in water, a decrease in harvest time, and quality fruit and vegetable yields. Phytalk is being used in New York State, Florida, Texas, and California. PhyTek has also developed a system that measures solar radiation, air and soil conditions that will be used by an international team of scientists to analyze the effects of global warming.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director