“There will be a collapse”: Despite the many years of success, the date industry is in crisis

A few days before Independence Day, an emergency conference of date growers was held in the Jordan Valley, with the aim of fighting for their independence in the face of the recent crisis in the industry. For years, the Israeli date has been considered one of the stars of Israeli agricultural exports, so much so that Israel has become the world’s largest exporter of Majhol varieties. However, in the last two years, according to the growers, the Israeli date palm industry has been in a crisis whose end is not visible.

Excess of crops

“Until three years ago, this industry was considered very profitable, perhaps one of the most profitable in the fruit industry, thanks to the succulent variety of Jahul that we learned how to grow, care for and preserve for extended periods,” says Amnon Greenberg, chairman of the Palm Table.

“Following the pepper crisis that occurred 8-9 years ago, most pepper growers switched to growing dates, mainly from the Majhol variety. From the moment a palm tree is planted until it bears fruit, 5-7 years pass. Even then we realized that the amount of fruit will increase, so we need to find channels. “New marketing. Until more or less three years ago, we were able to market everything we created, we opened markets not only in Israel, but also abroad, and the prices were reasonable,” he adds.

What has suddenly changed?
“A few things happened. First of all, two years ago, fruit surpluses began to form as a result of the young plantings’ crop. It was clear to us that our job was, among other things, to help and find new markets to export this produce. “Developing markets costs a lot of money, and the state needs to help growers develop these markets. And the state has indeed helped in the past with marketing campaigns we have done,” Greenberg explains.

Amnon Greenberg, Chairman of the Palm Table at the Plants Council Photo (Photo: Avishai Greenberg)

“Israeli exports of dates are on the rise thanks to the marketing efforts made by growers with the help of the Ministry of Agriculture, but the increase in exports is not such that the large amounts of dates accumulated. For example, a year ago we had a surplus of 4,000 tons of dates. “It is still difficult to estimate surpluses, but what I can say is that the amount of fruit expected in the 2022 pageant will be much larger than the 2021 pageant.”

In addition, Greenberg says: “About two years ago, the corona began. Most of the Israeli exports are to Europe, and most of our marketing there is done in open markets. Because of the corona, these markets were closed, so much of our ability to increase overseas marketing was impaired. As mentioned, despite everything, we were able to increase the marketing a bit, but if it were not for Corona, a large part of our problems would have been solved. “

In Israel, there are about 600 active growers who make a living directly from the date industry, and there are about 60,000 families who make a living from the industry in the second circle. The Israeli growers reach a crop of about 50,000 tons per year, and the cultivation takes place in the Arava region, Beit She’an Valley and the Jordan Valley, from the Red Sea in the south to the Sea of ​​Galilee in the north and the Yavneel Valley and along the Syrian-African rift.

According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the value of date production in Israel in 2019 was about NIS 1 billion, so that about NIS 650 million of them – exports, and the balance in the local market. “In 2019 we exported about 26.5 thousand tons of dates, in 2020 we exported 28,000 tons, and in 2021 – 32 thousand tons. If it were not for the corona, we could have marketed more and solved the problem of surpluses,” Greenberg says. “Now, for example, there is also a war in Ukraine that is radiating all over the world. I do not yet have a full analysis, but we feel that it also has an impact on the markets,” he notes.

Are there other circumstances that make it difficult for you?
“It is impossible to ignore the weakening of currencies – the euro and the dollar against the shekel – something that has hurt all exporters, including date exporters. Exports are what hold our industry, because prices in the domestic industry do not hold production. When everything I counted together, we are in crisis,” Greenberg explains .

Minister of Agriculture Oded Forer (Photo: Ronen Ackerman)Minister of Agriculture Oded Forer (Photo: Ronen Ackerman)

Turkish customs

Wait, take a breath, that’s not all. Greenberg notes that Turkey “was a destination where we used to export a very large amount of dates. Customs duties in Turkey were 15%. Recently, the Turks raised the tariff on Israeli dates Tamar Mahjul to 25%, while exempting Tamar Majhool, which is grown in the Palestinian Authority from customs to “Height of 3,000 tons. They even exempted duty-free customs from Jahul from Egypt. This makes it completely unprofitable to export to Turkey.”

He adds: “What is annoying is that as part of the reform led by the Ministries of Finance and Agriculture are expected to remove tariffs on vegetables and fruits imported from Turkey, where they are grown cheaply, while the Turks raise our tariffs. It is really absurd. “Open the market for imports, but we are afraid that in the future this industry will also be open for imports.”

How do you actually get out of the crisis you are in?
“We came to the Ministry of Agriculture professionals about six months ago and analyzed the circumstances of the crisis. We said that if the government supports the opening of new markets, it will help us get out of the crisis. We have come to the conclusion that the US is the preferred destination for opening markets. There are dozens of national networks, most of which do not have Majhool. Although in the United States it is grown from Jahul, but a quarter of what is grown in Israel. In Israel, the average annual consumption of dates per person is about 3 kg. In the US it is a few dozen grams. The majority there do not know what dates are and do not know what Majhool is. Therefore, according to our analysis, we can enter the networks in the US.

What needs to happen to be able to penetrate there?
“This program costs money. About two or three months ago, we asked the Ministry of Agriculture for NIS 40 million for two years to open marketing in the United States and other areas in Europe that we have not reached to date. We see this as the only way we can get out of the crisis. “

In August-September, Greenberg says, the next battalion will take place. He says: “And if we do not succeed in promoting the new markets, we will be left with surplus fruit, and this will be a collapse of the industry and settlement. We are still waiting for an answer regarding money. This money we are asking for can save the industry from collapsing. We believe that the American market has the potential to absorb all the fruit we produce. In the US it is an ‘infinite market’.

They already have an orderly plan. What is missing, as they say, is the money to implement it.

Between Japan and Ireland

“Our program is divided into three parts: sales promotion and market development; investment in automation; and investment in development and research to save inputs and improve productivity,” notes Gal Twig, plant development business director at the Palm Council.

“The first thing is the development of new countries. The investment in opening a new country, which has no dates or does not know Tamar Majhool, can easily be NIS 5-10 million a year. This includes knowing the product, its taste and its health benefits to the population. “For advertising, for building digital assets, for investing in nutritionists who will explain in their language the nutritional benefits and for sharing recipes that all kinds of chefs will prepare,” he adds.

Which country, for example, is worth this investment?
“Japan, for example, sells less dates. It is a very difficult market, but a market of 160 million inhabitants with a very high socio-economic level. In Ireland, too, the socio-economic situation is high, and even there the dates are not known enough or at all.”

And now back to the US. There, according to Twig, “we are in almost no marketing network, but mostly in the markets. The chains create stability with reasonable prices on which to build the foundation. Whereas in Europe, to which most of our exports are directed, we need to invest in promotion in order to increase consumption by engaging in social media activities, developing snacks with dates and more. We export 32,000 tons of jhool dates a year to more than 50 countries around the world, so in Israel, the tiny country, we consume about 20,000 tons a year. That is, the potential abroad is enormous.

As mentioned, investing in mechanization and development and research is also part of the plan. “Today the Ministry of Agriculture gives grants of up to 30% on the purchase of mechanization to farmers who meet the criteria. We want the date industry to provide 50% support because of the crisis,” Twig explains. “While the investment in development and research is intended to save inputs and improve productivity. For example, mechanized picking instead of manual picking, dilution in mechanization and not manually and examination of methods to save on irrigation. Currently only a small part of our entire program is carried out. “All this is done at a very low volume. We are waiting for the money,” he adds.

Response from the Ministry of Agriculture

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development responded: “The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development considers it crucial to promote Israeli agricultural exports and find new markets for local growers. To promote the date industry, including about a quarter of the amount of support transferred in the last decade in favor of promoting the export of agricultural products from Israel to the date growers.

“Due to the importance that the ministry sees in terms of agricultural exports in general and that of Israeli dates in particular, the ministry’s management invited date growers to a meeting a few months ago to hear firsthand the needs that arise from the field and help with the right tools to stabilize the industry. The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Oded Forer, immediately approached the Ministry of Defense to purchase the local produce of the date growers, but the growers did not accept the proposed outline.

“In parallel with the reform in agriculture led by Forer and as part of it, the ministry works to strengthen local agriculture and increase its competitiveness in an unprecedented amount of money, including massive investment in technological development to improve and streamline productivity and formulate a plan to expand and strengthen agricultural exports.

The plan will include various aspects of promoting the export of Israeli local produce, including increasing the volume of agricultural exports in existing target countries; Marketing and promotion activities in new destination countries; Assistance to export organizations and encourage exporters to export in cooperation in order to increase bargaining power and competition with competing countries; Opening of five new agricultural annexes in international markets and in destination countries for agricultural produce from Israel, whose main function is determined to promote agricultural exports; And special assistance to certain manufacturing industries, including the palm industry, in a focused and results-based program and implementation in the target countries. “

Source: Maariv.co.il – כלכלה בארץ by www.maariv.co.il.

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