Improving the efficiency of agricultural water use

Israeli agriculture produces and provides fresh and quality food, contributes to the development of the periphery, preserves green lungs, and develops landscapes and rural areas, while preserving natural and environmental resources. The Ministry of Agriculture has been working to save water and move to the use of purified wastewater and marginal water for many years.

Israel is located in the subtropical region of the Middle East, and is thus characterized by two seasons – a warm, dry season and a cool, rainy one. In most parts of the country, from the center and northwards, there is an average annual rainfall of over 400 mm, whereas south of Beersheba less than 200 mm falls each year. Even in Israel's rainiest regions, successful agriculture cannot continue throughout the year without irrigation. On the other hand, the inventories of graywater which exist in the country cannot provide for all the needs of the public, industrial sector, and agriculture.

The Ministry’s activities regarding more efficient use of water can be seen in research, the planning of Israeli agriculture, practical guidance for farmers, and also in providing budgetary support for improving agricultural working methods, so as to bring about savings in water usage. There has been a significant drop in the use of graywater in agriculture over the years, alongside an increase in the use of marginal water and purified wastewater, and all the while preserving a constant increase in agricultural production. Currently around 55% of the water used in Israeli agriculture is marginal water. The immediate benefit of returning the water for agriculture is not only in the ability to have productive agriculture, but also in maintaining environmental protection.

Between 1950 and 2006 water usage in Israel rose only fourfold, whereas the plant industry output increased to 21.2 times the original amount! This figure demonstrates how agriculture developed throughout the years of the State of Israel’s existence, while constantly making more efficient use of water. Similarly, over the years, there is a clear trend towards reduced use of graywater in agriculture, so that in 1980, agriculture utilized 1,200 million cubic meters of graywater, while in 2006 the total amount of graywater used in agriculture was under 600 million cubic meters, meaning a drop of half the quantity! In contrast, the use of marginal water and purified wastewater has risen recognizably over the years. For example, in 1970, around 100 million cubic meters of marginal water was used in agriculture, and almost no purified wastewater. In contrast in 2005, Israeli agriculture used around 300 million cubic meters of purified wastewater and close to 600 million cubic meters of marginal water.

The Ministry is working, as stated, on a number of different levels to achieve and continue developing these accomplishments. The studies examine the correct ways of using, and the preferences for, purified wastewater and marginal water, develop tools and advanced technologies with one of the aims being, enabling efficient use of water and irrigation focused on the requirements of the plants, with many additional studies currently underway.

Training is provided alongside the research, which helps to apply solutions from the research in the field. There are professional instructors in the Ministry of Agriculture’s Agricultural Extension Service of Israel (Shaham), who cover the entire agricultural industry and provide direct guidance to the farmers. The instructors are spread out over all the Ministry’s regions and they guide the farmers on how to use water, develop methods for its economic use together with researchers at the Ministry, and likewise, provide information and guidance regarding the best regions for growing crops, the right seasons for growing etc.