Sukkot, the fall harvest holiday, is also known as Chag Ha-Asif or the “Festival of the Ingathering”. To understand that term, you need to know a bit about agricultural growing cycles in biblical times when early spring was time for the barley harvest, followed by wheat in the early summer, and fruits such as grapes, figs, almonds and pomegranates, picked in mid-summer.
Early fall was the time for post-harvest handling of this bounty. According to an 2013 essay published in the Forward, “The asif, then, was not the harvest itself but the processing of certain parts of it. This was especially true of the grain harvest. Cutting or reaping wheat or barley was but the first stage in a series of operations [e.g., threshing, reaping, winnowing — R.N.] needed to turn them into the bread that was a staple… All this was slow, difficult work that could take a peasant family an entire summer to complete.”
Everything had to be finished and stored before the first rain — otherwise an entire year’s labor could be ruined by rot. Small wonder that the successful end to the post-harvest was cause for celebration and thanksgiving.
Modern-day Israel is no less expert at ingathering its food reserves and Israeli agricultural experts have invented technologies for post-harvest preservation that are used around the world.
For example, there is the GrainPro Cocoon, a giant bag-like storage device that helps communities and countries in the developing world avoid damage to their stores of grains and pulse.
Israel’s Volcani Institute (also the Agricultural Research Organization or ARO), the research arm of the Ministry of Agriculture, is a pioneer in post-harvest innovations such as a chemical free method of fumigating potatoes to significantly decrease germination while in storage (the secret ingredient is mint oil), increasing pomegranate shelf-life to almost four months while maintaining nutritional content using micro-perforated modified atmosphere bags, and heat treatments that solved the problem of unattractive-looking onions and peppers.
Other recent ARO innovations include methods for prolonging the shelf life of Granny Smith apples and the development of special high-protein grains for animal feed that can increase milk yields.
A non-GMO technology platform called Enhanced Ploidy (EP) developed by start-up Kaiima Agro-Biotech, when coupled with advanced breeding programs, can boost yields of crops such as corn, by up to 50 percent. In May, Kaiima and Bayer CropScience announced a collaboration to develop advanced hybrid rice varieties.
Water management is also a key component to a successful harvest and Israel’s 200 reservoirs, built by the JNF-KKL, are an alternative sources of water that save the economy millions of shekels each year, promote agriculture and preserve palatable drinking water.
More Aqua, a company founded by Israeli-American Moshe Alamaro, a researcher at MIT, has created a solution to the problem of reservoir evaporation: a ultra-thin barrier made from olive, coconut or palm oils.