Photo credit: Florida Department of Agriculture

Earlier this year, I visited Israel on my first international trade mission as Commissioner of Agriculture. I was thrilled to have this opportunity; Israel faces similar agricultural challenges to us here in Florida – especially when it comes to water conservation. This trip was my own fact-finding mission on behalf of Florida farmers. Israel is a leader in researching new agricultural technology, and we saw first-hand practices and technologies that can benefit Florida agriculture. With the Governor and Florida delegation joining
us in Israel later that week, I set out to learn about Israeli innovations in agriculture, citrus, water efficiency, cannabis, and more.

Women, Research and Tech

Day 1 My first engagement in Tel-Aviv was a roundtable with 25 women starting agriculture technology companies. iAngels is a venture capital firm founded and managed by women. They do everything from citrus greening to cannabis, drip irrigation to greenhouses. All startups, all dynamic, looking for partnerships in Florida to take some of that technology to our state. That is my goal – to take technology and research they are doing here and partner them with our farmers and ranchers back home.

Next on my itinerary was The Volcani Center. As the research arm of the Israeli Ministry
of Agriculture and Rural Development, The Volcani Center conducts studies on everything from citrus greening and hydroponics to different ways to preserve and protect the water supply.

Photo credit: Florida Department of Agriculture

Tevel Aerobotics was my final stop on day one. Tevel is a startup company that’s researching how to apply drone technology to harvesting plants – airborne instruments that can fly over and pick the fruit, take it from a basket and drop it in a larger basket. Another potential application of aerobotics in agriculture is monitoring. With this autonomous tech, we would be able to identify if a plant needs more or less water and take prototypes so they’re not overwatering or fertilizing a plant, therefore limiting the amount of resources used.

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Community and Education

Day 2 – We started day two heading thirty minutes north of Tel-Aviv to Kibbutz Ga’ash. In Hebrew, “kibbutz” refers to a collective residential community with an agricultural focus.  Kibbutzim has been a local practice for over a century, and I was interested in visiting one of these unique communities. During our tour, I learned how kibbutzim has developed into a substantial industry centered around innovation and tourism. With more than 250 kibbutzim in Israel, they contribute close to 10% of the country’s agricultural output. After exploring Kibbutz Ga’ash, our tour concluded with a blue green algae-water technology demonstration.

Photo credit: Florida Department of Agriculture

We returned to the city to visit IsraAID headquarters. An emergency response and humanitarian aid agency, IsraAID engages in international development worldwide.

Our next stop was at Mashav Agricultural Training Center located at another kibbutz – Kibbutz Shefayim. Mashav Center specializes in human capacity building and training programs in agriculture, water management, environment and rural development. While there, I also had the opportunity to visit one of the most advanced dairy farms in Israel – Hof Hasharon.

We ended the day by heading south to Kfar Chabad. A village with agricultural lands and an educational institution, Kfar Chabad was founded in 1949 by Holocaust survivors. Its early residents worked the land and raised cows, chickens and goats.

Day 3 – On this day, we observed the Sabbath.

Politics and Inspiration

Day 4 – Day four resumed my fact-finding mission with a morning visit to Growponics, a leading firm in hydroponics. They test the water throughout the day remotely. This has incredible potential; by testing remotely, the monitor could be in Israel, while the grow houses could be in Florida. Robotic technologies also monitor nutrient levels (including taking out too much nutrients), ensuring there are no clogs in the water supply, and detecting diseases on the leaves, which it will continue to monitor to ensure that the disease does not spread. 

After our tour at Growponics, I met with Israeli Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel, and we shared a productive conversation on agricultural technology, hemp research, water conservation, and other innovations for agriculture.

Photo credit: Florida Department of Agriculture

My final engagement before meeting up with the Florida delegation was a tour of BOL Pharma, one of the first licensed medical cannabis cultivators in Israel. They have been at the forefront of the Israeli medical cannabis industry since 2008.

I left Israel inspired and motivated. I look forward to sharing these best practices with Florida’s farmers and ranchers and my newly-formed Agriculture Innovation Workgroup, and helping Florida agriculture acquire the latest technology and conserve natural agricultural lands for future generations.

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