Israeli herb growers under pressure

Hot weather conditions have made the last quarter a difficult period for fresh herb cultivation in Israel, according to exporter Agrexco.

Plants have been put under stress by high temperatures and limited water supply, due to lack of rain last winter, and there has been a limited range of pesticides available to control disease, which has put pressure on growers.

Agrexco’s Mike Caddy said: “All three factors have had implications on quality, resulting in tougher grading out of product in Israel.”

Revenue back to herb growers has decreased by more than 20 per cent from a year ago, owing to the exchange rate and rising costs associated with oil products. Costs of polythene, fertiliser and transport have also risen dramatically.

“Prices must increase to allow growers to survive,” says Caddy. “Agrexco has taken many steps to ensure the maximum is returned to growers and has been supporting them with technical input to improve production and save costs.

“Unfortunately, growers are on the edge; they have little scope for manoeuvre and are fighting to survive - this season, for the first time in many years, growers have had to get loans to enable them to plant crops for the coming season.”

However, growers are optimistic about the weather and believe that, as the weather cools, they will be in a position to offer a full range of good quality products. “If sales are good and growers are able to harvest, there will be a base for a strong season,” adds Caddy. “If sales are not there and growers have to make technical cuts in order to keep the cropping cycle, we might face shortages in January and February 2009.”

Sales of Israeli herbs in the UK have declined over the last quarter, due to increased interest in local product. Agrexco is looking to work with UK growers and believes growing conditions for some crops are better in Israel. Rosemary, thyme and sage all benefit from the higher temperatures in Israel, which makes the product more aromatic and softer than the sometimes woody material achieved in the English summer, said Caddy.

• The Israeli pepper season will start towards the end of October and there is a small increase in production.

This season, Agrexco is conducting a semi-commercial trial of evergreen peppers.

Agrexco’s Steve Hopkins said: “We have total exclusivity on a variety of the evergreen pepper, which is a mature green. This variety has the advantage of not only having a better eating quality, but it can be seafreighted without loss of colour or taste. The weather in Israel has been extremely hot, but this should not affect the crop.”