Israeli consumers paying for lower agricultural output

Tomatoes Photo: Tamar Matsafi

The prices of tomatoes and squash are zooming, and consumer prices are skyrocketing as many farmers leave the sector.

The Israeli consumer is again paying for the problems of agriculture in Israel. The prices of tomatoes and squash are zooming, and consumer prices are skyrocketing. Today's wholesale price for tomatoes was NIS 7-7.50 per kilo. Cherry tomatoes were being sold in the wholesale market at NIS 12-12.50 a kilo, and the price of squash jumped to NIS 8-8.50 a kilo in the wholesale market. Other high-priced fruits and vegetables included sweet potatoes and watermelon.

In some supermarket chains, depending on the regional competition, supermarkets were selling tomatoes at a loss, while in others the prices varied from NIS 7.90 to NIS 16.90 per kilo. The price of cherry tomatoes in supermarkets varied between NIS 9.90 and NIS 19.90 per kilo, according to the Pricez website. Squash and sweet potatoes were also being sold at a loss in a few supermarkets, while prices in other branches were as high as NIS 15 per kilo for sweet potatoes and NIS 12.90 per kilo for squash.

This morning's wholesale price for watermelon was NIS 4.50 per kilo, leading one of the supermarket chains to refrain from ordering watermelons for the weekend. One retailer said, "It's a way of telling us as customers, 'Don't buy watermelon.' We're not bringing watermelon to the chain anymore, because when a watermelon weights 10 kg, it costs the consumer NIS 50, and the customer says we're robbing him. It's better to leave the watermelons with the growers.

Shaike Shaked, a tomato grower from Netiv HaAsara, said that the main reason for the high prices for tomatoes was the fact that many growers had left the sector. Shaked, who grows various types of tomatoes, including cherry tomatoes, told "Globes," "The number of farmers growing tomatoes in Israel has declined substantially, because it doesn't pay to be a traditional farmer growing fruits and vegetables in Israel. I warned a year ago, and three years ago, when I said that the standard price for tomatoes would be NIS 10 a kilo, and they laughed at me and ridiculed me. I estimate that half of the growers have left the sector in the past decade. In general, there are less than 8,000 farmers in Israel."

According to Shaked, the hot climate and a virus are also contributing to the shortage, but these are secondary reasons. "Yes, there's a virus attacking tomatoes, but that's not the main reason. Because growing becomes difficult, crops usually become smaller during the summer and become unprofitable, so people stop growing them. The ones who stay demand their price. You won't find a farmer with 50 dunam (12.5 acres). At most, they grow 10% of their area.

"Unfortunately, the Ministry of Agriculture, and especially the Ministry of Finance, are wasting a lot of time, and don't understand the farmers' distress. They teach the horse to go without water, and then it dies. They don't realize that people are now eliminating crops and closing down farms. On my moshav, there are only three people left who are growing vegetables, out of 70 30 years ago. The number is going down. There are 20 more growing flowers and seeds, but not fresh produce, not vegetables, and that says it all."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on August 21, 2016

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2016

Tomatoes Photo: Tamar Matsafi
Tomatoes Photo: Tamar Matsafi
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