Farmers Worried 'Crazy Winter' Will Ruin Crops

For irrigation specialists around the country, the winter season is a time primarily for conserving energy for the coming summer. A good deal of their work is focused on maintenance of pipes, water pumps, filters, and drip-irrigation and other systems. The farmers won't admit it, but this is also usually the time to catch up on some rest.

This year, however, is different. Yesterday, a mid-February day, the irrigation people working in fields in the Jordan Valley, whose yield includes bananas, avocados and mangoes, were forced to open their faucets and replenish their land with water that quickly dried up in the 30-degree heat that has engulfed the region.

Indeed, the fierce rains of two weeks ago now seem like a distant memory.

"This winter has been crazy," said Dan Kapchuk, a veteran orchard worker on Kibbutz Beit Zera. "This heat is making the fruit in the avocado and mango groves ripen sooner than expected. If there is a change in temperature and it gets cold again in another two weeks, this will damage the early yield."

Naturally, in his work, Kapchuk continued, "seasons are very important and if the balance between them is thrown off kilter, then the entire normal process of crop growth is ruined. If a cluster of bananas that has yet to reach its full growth begins to ripen prematurely, then one has to harvest it at a stage when it is not really ready to go to the market."

"Recent years have been especially unstable in terms of weather," noted Shlomo Sondak, who works in the fields of Arbel, a moshav near Tiberias. "Now we suddenly have a year with a warm winter. There has been much change throughout the years."

Yesterday, Sondak was hard at work repairing a kav-noa - a motorized irrigation system that hovers over large tracts of land on which the moshav grows peas. Sondak was laboring in earnest with the knowledge that he would most likely have to use the machine in the coming days.

"The crops which grew nicely during the winter and 'burst' ahead have now been stopped in their tracks in one fell swoop because of the heat," Sondak added. "In the meantime, there is no sign of a resumption of the rain. Instead, we have heat and strong winds. I'm concerned that the situation will only get worse."