Northern R & D Exhibition in Hula Lake Park

Thursday, December 20, 2012 3:56 PM

KKL-JNF Research and Development Station open day exhibition at Hula Lake Park; a fascinating display of applied and developmental agricultural research.

Among this year’s Winter Bird events at Hula Park was an open day held by KKL-JNF’s Northern Research and Development Station at an exhibition that gave visitors the opportunity to observe examples of applied and developmental agricultural research.

Zohar and Ben Lin with exhibition banner. Photo: Yoav Devir

Treasures at the Northern R&D agricultural exhibition.
Photo: Yoav Devir

How does one develop a new variety of bigger, redder and more beautiful apple? What can be done to curb the grapevine virus, which damages vineyards and the wine industry? How can farmers cope with the Mediterranean fruit fly? What innovative methods have been found to calculate the precise quantity of water each crop requires?

These were some of the issues at the exhibition that are currently the subject of research and experimentation at KKL-JNF’s Northern Research and Development Station.

Agricultural machines. Photo: Yoav Devir

Elkana Ben-Yashar. Photo: Yoav Devir

The Station employs twelve experienced researchers and a large number of students. “Although we use recognized scientific research tools and work to accepted academic standards, pure research is not our main objective,” explains Elkana Ben Yashar, manager of KKL-JNF’s Northern R & D station. “Our main goal is application rather than theory: we want to provide a service for agriculture in northern Israel and promote farming by directing it into more profitable channels.”

Transport at Hula Lake Park. Photo: Yoav Devir

As an organization that is involved in the management of open spaces, agricultural development, settlement promotion and the promotion of applied research – all for the benefit of mankind and the environment – KKL-JNF takes a special interest in research and development. And, indeed, a significant portion of the budget for R & D centers throughout the country is funded by KKL-JNF, with the help of its Friends throughout the world.

These research and development activities extend all over northern Israel. Because the climate in this region varies from place to place, different crops are grown and different farming methods used in the various different locations: apples in the northern Golan, avocados in the lowlands, mushrooms in Western Galilee, persimmons and pomegranates in the intermediate areas, beef cows in the Golan and Galilee – these are just a few of the different types of farming that receive professional assistance from the KKL-JNF R & D station.

An Apple called “Fun”

Nili Shemi with Fun Apples. Photo: Yoav Devir

One of the Station’s most important tasks is checking to see which new varieties of crop are suitable for cultivation in northern Israel. Veteran R & D worker Nili Shemi tells us that an apple tree in the Kibbutz Merom Golan orchard was seen to be producing a different type of fruit on one of its branches – apples that were bigger, redder and shinier than all the rest. The taste was the same, but these apples looked completely different. Year after year, this one branch of this one tree out of the whole orchard continued to behave as if it were better than all the others.

The R & D station researchers decided that saying “Bravo!” every year just wasn’t enough – the matter had to be investigated. They propagated the branch and cloned entire trees of precisely the same variety, and now they are keeping a close eye on the experimental plot to see whether or not this tree can be grown commercially in northern Israel. If in the future, you happen to come across a variety of apple called “Fun” in your local supermarket, you’ll know that it all started with a single branch that was just a little more highly motivated than the others, an alert and hard-working farmer and a dedicated team of trained researchers.

Dr. David Cohen, a researcher at the station, explains that modern agriculture simply cannot ignore environmental issues. “The issue of nature conservation preoccupies all farmers today,” he says. “Lake Hula is the ideal venue for an exhibition that shows people what we do, because the site itself is living proof that it’s possible to find a balance between nature and agriculture that allows the two of them to exist side by side in harmony.”

The Mediterranean Fruit Fly

Yossi Halperin. Photo: Yoav Devir

As its name implies, the Mediterranean fruit fly is one of the major pests of the Mediterranean region. It attacks most kinds of fruit, in both citrus and deciduous orchards. From the outside, the damaged fruit shows almost no signs of having been attacked, but once the fruit fly’s eggs have been laid beneath its skin, it begins to rot inside.

The unique methods KKL-JNF’s R & D researchers have developed to deal with this scourge include releasing barren flies (which prevents breeding) and setting traps that smell of ripe fruit.

Yossi Halperin, a representative of the Israeli Plant Production and Marketing Board who works at the Northern Research and Development Station and coordinates fruit-fly control initiatives, tells us that it is especially important that action against these pests be coordinated on a national scale. “The flies move from place to place, so there’s no point in launching a local campaign. In the past, we used to discard fruit from dunam upon dunam of orchards damaged by the fruit fly, but today the fruit is harmed only rarely, thanks to the tools we’ve developed. And of course, the staff at the research and development stations are the go-to professional people for farmers where fruit fly is concerned, just as they are on other issues.”

Halperin explains that cooperation with farmers is vital and that the relationship between the two is a dialogue, not a monologue: the R & D researchers disseminate information and introduce new methods, while the farmers share the hands-on experience they have acquired in the field and express their practical needs.

Coping with the Water Shortage

At Hula Lake. Photo: Yoav Devir

Another piece of research conducted by the Northern Research and Development Station is investigating the amount of irrigation required for the different types of crop. The goal is to produce healthy plants that yield a large quantity of high-quality fruit by using the precise quantity of water required – and no more. Saving water in this way would reduce farmers’ costs and help them cope with the scarcity of water in Israel.

For this purpose, pressure chambers have been developed in which the precise quantity of water necessary for each plant can be measured. A leaf from the plant is placed in a chamber, and the pressure is gradually increased until the first drop of water emerges. This method has proved to be an efficient way of measuring how thirsty a tree is, and it enables researchers to calculate the amount of water necessary for different crops under a variety of different conditions.

The Wasp Army against the Grapevine Virus in Vineyards

Dr Rakefet Sharon explains about the grapevine virus. Photo: Yoav Devir

The grapevine virus is a scourge of the vineyards: it causes the leaves to curl up, which hinders photo-synthesis, and damaged vines produce less fruit, which is also of inferior quality. As a result, not only do infected vineyards produce less wine, but the wine they do produce tastes less good. The virus propagates itself by means of mealybugs, which carry it on their bodies.

Of course, it’s always possible to spread poison to kill the mealybugs, but experts explain that this is a poor solution. Apart from the damage the poison causes to the environment and the crops themselves, the pests eventually become immune to it.

Dr. Rakefet Sharon, a researcher at the Northern Research and Development Station, has declared war on the grapevine virus. Just as the Israel Defense Forces develop sophisticated new weapons, so too do the R & D staff. They have discovered pheromones – a type of insect sex hormone – that enable them to confuse the mealybugs by diffusing a scent that misleads the males and prevents them from locating the females. No mating takes place, and the bugs gradually disappear from the area.

The Klein family. Photo: Yoav Devir

Tamar Sokolski explains about agricultural pests. Photo: Yoav Devir

The 'air force' that combats the mealybugs is renowned as one of the world’s best. Instead of warplanes, it uses parasitic wasps. The R & D researchers discovered that these wasps are a very efficient natural enemy of the mealybugs that spread the virus that damages the vines: the female wasps lay their eggs inside the mealybugs and the larvae devour the bug from inside.

Hula Lake Botanical Garden. Photo: Yoav Devir

The cute little ladybird, too, turns out to be a fearless warrior. An army, they say, marches on its stomach, and the ladybird battalions are especially partial to mealybugs. Well, we all know there’s no accounting for tastes!
Technology likewise plays a major role on the modern battlefield, and Dr. Sharon’s intelligence corps uses GPS systems for precise spatial mapping. With the help of special software, researchers can pinpoint areas in danger of mealybug attack and so can focus their efforts on the regions that are at risk.

Tamar Sokolski , an MA student engaged in researching the grapevine virus, came along to the research and development exhibition to tell visitors about pests and the ways to combat them. Some of the children present displayed a particular interest in the topic. Among them was nine-year-old Adi Klein from Kfar Saba. “Until now, when I ate grapes I didn’t think about everything that needs to be done to make them healthy and tasty,” she said.

“It’s interesting for us parents, too,” remarked Adriana Klein, Adi’s mother. “For the children, this is a wonderful way to learn – by walking around and looking at things. An occasion like this gets the children much more involved than the classroom or reading books can.”

Hula Lake Park – Visitors, Birds and Animals

Sign for the Swiss KKL Bird Sanctuary. Photo: Yoav Devir

Coypu. Photo: Yoav Devir

A large number of visitors flocked to the Hula Lake Park over the Hanukkah holiday, and many of them visited the KKL-JNF’s Northern Research and Development Station’s exhibition. Everyone enjoyed the numerous projects that KKL-JNF is developing all over the park, with the help of its Friends throughout the world, including Switzerland, the USA, Australia and Canada. But other visitors were present too, and they were of a rather different kind: at this time of year, thousands of cranes visit Lake Hula and fill it with cheerful hustle and bustle. Some 25,000 cranes spend winter at the lake, and another 75,000 pass through it in the autumn on their way to Africa.

These large birds are one of the main attractions at the site’s world-renowned bird-watching center. In the past, they caused serious damage to local farmers’ fields, but thanks to the crane-feeding project launched with the help of donations from Friends of JNF USA, we’ve discovered that, with a little mutual consideration, everyone can live here together.

Apart from the impressive cranes, the site is frequented by many other types of birds: herons, ibises, ducks, pelicans, storks and numerous raptors, and there are animals, too: water buffalo, swamp lynxes, foxes, coypus (water rats) and many other magnificent representatives of the natural world.  At this time of year, apart from the usual excursion on foot, bicycle or golf buggy, the park offers visitors a whole host of activities and special tours: a night safari, a sunrise walk, a bird-watching tour, a visit to the bird-ringing station and guided tours of the botanic garden.   

Want to see more wildlife at Hula Lake Park?
Check out our photo gallery!