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Global warming caused NIS 300 million of agricultural damage in 2021 – report

Insurance Fund for Natural Risks in Agriculture paid out 5 times multi-year average to compensate fruit farmers whose crops didn’t get a needed cold snap due to warm winter

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Flooded vineyards following heavy rainfall near the Jewish settlement of Efrat, in Gush Etzion, January 9, 2020. (Yaniv Nadav/ Flash90)
Flooded vineyards following heavy rainfall near the Jewish settlement of Efrat, in Gush Etzion, January 9, 2020. (Yaniv Nadav/ Flash90)

Global warming caused some NIS 300 million ($96.5 million) of damages to Israeli agriculture last year, according to a report published on Monday by the Insurance Fund for Natural Risks in Agriculture.

The hardest-hit sector was fruit, especially summer fruit such as peaches, nectarines and plums, which, deprived of a winter cold snap, failed to develop properly, causing widespread shortages in summer.

The fund paid out five times the multi-year average in compensation to fruit farmers whose harvest was poor.

The compensation paid to farmers, in general, stood at around NIS 170 million ($55 million) per year just a decade or so ago.

“Over the past year, the climate crisis has made headlines and attracted global attention, and its implications are evident for agriculture in this country,” said Shmulik Tourjeman, CEO of the fund.

“All the (relevant bodies) in Israel must internalize the immediate economic consequences of the climate crisis and the way to deal with them.”

Israeli farmers plant za’atar in fields in the Jezreel Valley, northern Israel, on November 19, 2019. (Anat Hermony/ Flash90)

He went on, “Agriculture is not just ‘another profession.’ Blue-and-white agriculture has national significance that includes maintaining a fresh and continuous supply of food, maintaining food independence and independence from external food sources, dispersing the population, and preserving state lands.

“Given the consequences of the climate crisis, farmers are being forced to take greater economic risks and are exposed to damages that no other field is exposed to,” he said.

“The only tool that enables them to deal with the consequences of the climate crisis is insurance. Without significant support for premiums that will allow farmers affordable insurance protection, farmers will be forced to reduce the risks they take, for all that that implies.”

During 2021, agricultural insurance surveyors dealt with around 11,000 reports of damage to agricultural produce, 5,000 of them from northern Israel. Fruit growers, who were paid compensation of NIS 80 million ($26 million), were the hardest hit by the weather and the most directly affected by climate change, the organization said, particularly last year’s warm winter, which led to reduced harvests of fruits that needed a cold snap to develop properly.

The year began with 19 continuous days of high temperatures and no rain, which resulted in 3,000 reports of damage, mainly in the fruit, olive, and grapes-for-wine sectors, according to the report.

An orange orchard near Netivot, southern Israel, March 28, 2011. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

Later in January, the tide turned and rainstorms accompanied by hail badly hit vegetables, citrus groves, and field crops. Hail damages fruit, often to the extent that it cannot be sold to retailers.

February also saw extreme weather conditions, with heavy rain, hail, and snow. During that month, the fund received 900 damage reports in just four days.

The late spring and summer were marked by extreme heatwaves, the report went on. Except for June, the whole of the summer was unusually hot, with the mercury breaking all records in both August and, later, November. May saw 40-degree heat (104 degrees Fahrenheit) blanketing the coastal areas, the Negev Desert, and the eastern valleys, drawing 200 requests for compensation mainly from growers of avocado, fruit, and citrus.

Maya (L) and Sharon Cherry farm in Be’er Milka. (Ramat Hanegev Regional Council)

The organization paid NIS 66 million ($21 million) last year to growers of vegetables such as peppers, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, watermelon and cucumbers affected mainly by diseases and pests, heat, hail and storms. Most of the sum was paid in connection with poor harvests resulting from a shortage of rain in the Negev Desert.

The Insurance Fund for Natural Risks in Agriculture is jointly owned by the government and the farmers’ marketing boards, and professional organizations.

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