Agriculture has been central to Israel, since the beginning of the Zionist Enterprise. Kibbutzim and moshavim were essential in settlement of the country. During their first years, the chalutzim (pioneers) subsisted on their ability to produce crops. The pre-state Yishuv began exporting Jaffa Oranges in the 1920s. At the time of Independence in 1948, Israel had 408,000 acres of cultivated land. Today, Israel maintains 1,070,000 acres of farm land. During that same time, agricultural production has increased 16 times over.
Throughout its history, Israel has had to cope with water shortages that have sparked/led to unique innovations in Israeli agriculture. Israel was the first to develop drip irrigation, drastically decreasing the amount of water needed to grow crops. Israel also uses recycled domestic water for most of its irrigation needs, being the only country in the world to recover nearly 100% of its domestic water.
In recent years, Israel has exported approximately $2.5 billion in agricultural products, while importing $4.4 billion of food for domestic consumption.
Some of the vegetables produced for export by Israel’s agricultural sector include: tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, peppers, and herbs.
Israel produces wheat that supplies 20% of domestic consumption, while producing cotton for export. However, cotton production has decreased, as it requires substantial amounts of water.
In addition, Israel is a major grower of a diverse and wide variety of flowers, almost exclusively cultivated for export. The principal fruits made in Israel are: apples, grapes, peaches, mango, plums, pears and apricot. The exotic fruits produced in Israel include: pitaya (Sabra cactus), papaya, and passion fruit.
Organic agriculture is the fastest growing segment of the agricultural economy. Three hundred twenty farmers produce organically treated product. They represent 1.5% of total agricultural production, but 15% of exports.
Israel also possesses an exceptionally advanced diary industry, with the highest production of milk per cow in the world (11,667 Kg. per cow, per year).
Poultry farming constitutes another substantial aspect of the agricultural sector in Israel, with an average of 42 kg of chicken meat and 9 kg of turkey meat consumed by every Israel, each year. In addition, Israelis each consume an average of 240 eggs annually.
Finally, in recent years, Israel has developed a significant fish breeding industry — most of which takes place in freshwater ponds.
Israeli agriculture faces a number of challenges. While Israel currently produces almost all of its domestic water in its desalinization plants, the cost of water remains a challenge for farmers. The other problem which Israeli growers and agriculturalists share with their counterparts throughout the world is a shortage of workers. The average farmer in Israel is considerably older, with the youth no longer interested in farming. Today, Israel relies on foreign labor to address much of the country’s farming needs.