Farmers Suffer, Down Quilt Sellers Profit From Cold Weather

The cold spell that settled on Israel last week has had its winners and its losers.

The cold spell that settled on Israel last week has had its winners and its losers. Farmers are reporting tens of millions of shekels in damage, while retailers of heating appliances and warm clothing are reporting sales of some items have jumped by as much as 300%.

Western Negev farmers report they have suffered tens of millions of shekels in damage to potato crops. An estimated 30% to 40% of the crops - about 30,000 tons, mostly earmarked for export, were destroyed by the cold. Damages could reach NIS 50 million. Carrot, radish and eggplant crops in the area also hurt.

Vegetable farming is the main source of income for Maon region communities in the Negev. Most of their produce is meant for export under the brand name David Moshe. Potatoes are the main product in the area. Damage from cold were also reported in the coastal plain, the Arava and the northern valleys. Thousands of tons of avocados, bananas, flowers, eggplant and other vegetables were destroyed, including hothouse vegetables. Losses are so far estimated at tens of millions of shekels, and a final assessment will be published once the cold snap has passed.

Maon region agricultural company director Shay Rubin called it a natural disaster that would have dire financial repercussions for Western Negev kibbutzim, packing houses, marketers and exporters. The price of vegetables in the local market will sharply increase as a result, he believes. Rubin said that insurance does not provide a solution for such large scale disasters, and that the government would be called on to join in the effort in this exceptional case.

Damage from the cold has compounded the drought damage in the area. The Maon Region agro-company has 300 employees from the region involved in packing and marketing produce. Rubin warned that if the government fails to provide a quick solution for the farmers' difficulties, many people will find themselves unemployed, although the region's communities would do everything possible to prevent laying off workers.

On the other hand, the cold weather Israel has experienced since late last week has caused a jump in sales of winter products. Consumers eagerly sought blankets, air conditioners, heaters, warm clothing, and "wintry" foodstuffs.

A Manufacturers Association survey reported air conditioner sales are up 30%, to 20,000 units (NIS 50 million). Shekem Electric small appliances manager Eli Ben Yitzhak said that the chain had seen an increase of 200% in its sales of air conditioners this week compared to preceding weeks, and space heater and radiator sales had jumped 300%.

Fashion outlets also had a renaissance. Renuar and Castro reported a 15% jump in sales of coats, sweaters and scarves. The Manufacturers Association reports that sales of down blankets jumped 50% against the norm.s, to 5,000 blankets (NIS 3 million). Wissotzky tea has seen an increase of 10% in its sales this week, and sweet snack and chocolate sales rose17%.