The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has worked hard to promote biological and integrated pest control. The result has been a year-by-year decrease in the number of cases of excess amounts of pesticide residues in agricultural produce. A decade ago, the Ministry embarked on a ground-breaking project together with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel using barn owls and falcons as pioneers in biological pest control in Israel, replacing pesticides in the fight against pests. Today, ten years into the project, Ministry of Agriculture data shows a substantial drop of up to 60% in the use of pesticides in open spaces, all thanks to this initiative.
In recent years, the project, which proved to be a remarkable success, has already fanned out to every region of the north, center and northern and western Negev. The result is that most field crop farms in Israel are taking part in the project. The Ministry of Agriculture has in recent years been tracking the usage trendline of the only pesticide permitted for use against rodents in open spaces - Rosh-80, concurrent with the expansion of the barn owl project. The findings show that the quantities of this chemical sprayed have fallen by between 30% and 60% depending on the region, when compared with usage prior to the start of the project.
The national barn owl project started out as a small-scale pilot in the Hula valley and in Kibbutz Sde-Eliahu in the Beit She’an valley.
Today there are thousands of nesting boxes for barn owls and falcons installed throughout fields and pastures all over the country. These fowl settle there and feed on agricultural pests - field mice and other rodents considered among the worst pests in fields and orchards, capable of wreaking havoc in field crops, stunting the growth of trees in orchards and even killing them. Thanks to the barn owls and falcons, the extent of the damage can be curbed, and with it the use of chemical pesticides can be reduced while the winged creatures gain a nesting spot. Studies have shown that a pair of barn owls hunts approximately 2,000 field mice and rodents a year.
The barn owl population in Israel today is considered the densest in the world and growing. The project has set up about 4,000 nesting boxes for the barn owls, such that occupancy is a function of the availability of food (rodents) and the number of other barn owls in the area. Since the food supply and the number of barn owls is a dynamic variable, nationwide the occupancy rates vary between 25% and 60%.
Dr. Yoav Motro, in charge of the project in the Ministry of Agriculture: “Besides its environmental benefits, thanks to the success of this project Israel nowadays is regarded a world leader in this field. As a result the project has yielded fruitful international collaborations, including Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Cyprus, Switzerland, Spain, Italy and others”.