Jerusalem, Jan 14 | The large green fields of Udi Nachshon’s farm are dotted with thousands of red strawberries.
Workers pick them one by one, carefully lay them in boxes and pack them for sell. It is the peak season in Israel and the markets are full of the red, bright and inviting small fruit.
There are about 12 different varieties grown in Israel. Varying in levels of sweetness and moisture, most consumers will not be able to tell the difference unless sampling them one after the other.
“Today there are varieties that are much sweeter, varieties that yield more crops,” Nachshon told Xinhua. But still there are challenges. “There are a lot of problems. Climate problems, soil fertility problems, soil diseases… But we always want to bring something different,” Nachshon added.
In recent years, scientists and seed developers in the country have come up with new tastes. They are thinking about not only the moisture and the sugar levels of the strawberries, but also completely different tastes.
The B4U (Berry for You) variety may look like a strawberry, but it tastes like a grape. Developed at the Volcani Center, the Israeli Agricultural Research Organization, the fruit has a distinct taste, almost like a grape lollipop.
According to Nachshon, B4U is a tricky grape to grow. It has therefore not yet penetrated the market. But other varieties, such as Hadar, Aya, Ilan, Angel and Peles are flourishing on the fields and flooding the produce shelves.
The need to develop new varieties stems from the process in which the fresh produce distances itself from the original DNA throughout years of vegetative reproduction.
So while people may yearn for what they think was better produce in the past, the natural reproduction process needs some help from modern science.
“Every few years, a tissue culture needs to be taken, in order for the variety to return to its old genetics. Also, the weather changes. Our palette also changes sometimes and what tasted good twenty years ago does not necessarily fit today,” said Nachshon.
Israel’s agricultural sector has a reputation for using cutting edge technology and science in order to sustain its crops and upgrade its abilities. Still, the work being done on Nachshon’s fields is very low-tech. Because of the delicate nature of the fruit, machines cannot be used to pick or package it. It is a labor-intense crop. Strawberry is a relatively expensive fruit in Israel and at its most expensive can reach the price of 30 US dollars per kilogram.
“The investment is expensive, water is expensive, pesticides are expensive, labor is expensive, everything is expensive,” Nachshon told Xinhua.
Israel’s very mild and often dry winter is not ideal for strawberry growing, a crop that needs plenty of water. In contrast, however, strawberries do not need much sunlight, and the length of the light winter allows for a long season in the country, beginning in November and ending in May.
In recent years, several farms in Israel have begun practicing year-round growing with new techniques. The appetite for strawberries in the local market has increased and local farmers want to supply the growing demand, ideally all year long.
In an attempt to lower the price for the consumer and increase sales, farmers are now planting different varieties in the same fields, a practice that was not so common in the past. It also enables them to lengthen the season.
Despite the good quality of the Israeli strawberry, in recent years, the export of the fruit has drastically declined as other countries prove more competitive prices.