farming -  Eliyahu Hershkovitz - November 23 2010
Dr. Gal Yaakobi. The new method is used on over 10,000 dunams. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz
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Citrus farmers in the Besor region of the Western Negev are going green. A special project launched jointly by the Agriculture Ministry, the Citrus Growers Association and the pest-control company Bio-Fly is encouraging more and more farmers in the area to stop using chemical pest-control substances in favor of a novel - and environmentally friendly - method known as Sterile Insect Technique.

According to the company's website, the method is based on the "mass release of sterile insects of the target species, which compete with wild males for the wild females prevalent in the field. Due to the quantitative advantage of the sterile males, a large percentage of the females mate with them, producing eggs that are infertile, leading to a gradual reduction in the pest population."

The new method is now employed on over 10,000 dunams in the area, a number expected to double next year.

"We grow the flies in the Bio-Fly factory until the pupa phase, then sterilize them and place them in a special container we set up in Kibbutz Gvulot, in the Eshkol area," said project director Dr. Gal Yaakobi. "There we pack the flies into packages, and special teams with the company spread them around nearby orchards."

"Green pest control - that's how it's described by local farmers - has several advantages. Consumers receive cleaner, fresher fruit and growers are spared having to perform arduous labor," Yaakobi said.

Yaakobi added that the new pest-control technique is no more expensive than traditional chemical methods.

"The farmer pays about the same for Sterile Insect Technique as for chemical methods, thanks to subsidies from the Agriculture Ministry," he explained to Haaretz. "With time, this technique will succeed and the price will fall significantly, and then the subsidies can be abolished."

Yaakobi said area farmers have set a precedent for growers nationwide.

"Farmers in the Besor region are leading this process of change in growing culture, in terms of product quality as well as its marketing and branding. It's clear to all of us that this is the future of agriculture in this country - both green and economically viable," he said.