Predators on the Loose in the Arava
Ten years ago Israeli researchers developed technology that uses predatory insects to grow healthy vegetables. Rather than using toxic chemical sprays that are dangerous to people and the environment, the method, “integrated pest management” (IPM) takes advantage of the natural enemies of bugs and insects to “search and destroy.” The beauty of this technique is that when known enemies of insects, such as the predatory mite, are released in the fields, they eat only the insects and leave the plants healthy and whole. IPM is used extensively in the Arava, where the largest agricultural marketing cooperative is located, by nearly all of the farmers. Thanks to the predators doing their job, spraying with pesticides is rarely needed. More than half of the Arava’s vegetables are grown for export to overseas markets, where organic produce is in high demand.
Growing Organically in the Arava
Farmers in the Arava have developed a 3-step technology that has proven to be successful in growing vegetables without chemicals. They begin by buying predatory bugs from two companies in Israel: Bio-Bee Biological Systems, located at Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu or from Kibbutz Yad Mordecai, which is known for its bees and honey. Depending on the type of insect, they order the appropriate bug to “take them out.” Destructive thrip, which tends to infest pepper plants, can be treated with Orius laevigatus. Farmers sprinkle the Orius directly on the leaves so they can enjoy meals of fresh thrip. Other mites that eat their enemies are swirski and persimilis. Farmers pull out the big gun, or the parasitic wasp, to combat infestation of aphids. Aphids, also called “plant lice”, attach themselves to the plants and suck out the sap. By opening the box and letting the wasp fly through the fields, they go in search of the sticky aphids. They lay eggs in the aphid’s body and as the larva grows inside the aphid, it dies.
Giving the Land a Rest
The second step in successful organic farming in the Arava is letting the land rest one month each summer. The field is covered with special plastic netting that, when magnified by the intense summer heat, clears the ground of disease-causing fungi.
Washing and Testing
Just to make sure, the Arava marketing cooperative developed a biological control protocol. All produce is washed and representative samples are sent off to a lab to check for any bacteria or pesticide. In one test, the highly sophisticated equipment can identify hundreds of pesticides.
Hopefully, this effective 3-step technique of organic farming used in the Arava will spread to other cooperatives.