Israeli-developed nets ensure that insects don’t ‘bug’ produce

Meteor’s anti-virus agricultural nets ensure that bugs stay out of the lettuce patch and off the tomato vine. Thanks to the company’s technology, farmers are able to save billions each year – and observant Jews are able to have lettuce in their salads

Meteor's SpiderNet (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Meteor's SpiderNet (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Petah Tikva-based Meteor, which pioneered the use of nets to prevent insect infestation in crops, will be introducing innovations to its “anti-virus” agricultural nets. The nets, according to the company, prevent insects from attacking vegetables and flowers and causing the destruction of billions of dollars’ worth of produce a year. The anti-virus “spider net” marketed by Meteor features a web of tiny micro-fibers that insects cannot penetrate. By keeping the bugs out, Meteor CEO Avi Klayman said, the nets are able to prevent the spread of diseases that until recently have caused major financial losses for farmers.

Meteor’s nets have been instrumental in helping to prevent infestations of one of the whitefly, one of the greatest nemeses of farmers, Klayman said in a recent interview. The creature, which carries, among other diseases, Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl Virus, is alone responsible for some $1 billion in damage annually. The whitefly attacks the DNA of plants, causing them to shrivel up and die, and is extremely difficult to control as it is capable of quickly building up resistance to pesticides. For Western farmers, said Klayman, it’s an inconvenience and an expense; but for billions of people in the third world, whitefly infestation and the subsequent destruction of crops could mean privation, if not starvation.

Meteor began producing agricultural nets in the late 1980s, after Israel lost nearly all of its tomatoes to yellow curl disease. After consulting with scientists at Israel’s Agricultural Research Organization (the Vulcani Institute), Meteor developed a net that was capable of blocking the whitefly’s physical access to plants, while allowing sunshine and air circulation to penetrate. As an additional benefit, the net allows farmers to avoid overuse of pesticides.

One of the more interesting aspects of Meteor’s technology has been its use in the “kosher vegetable” industry. Ever since DDT was banned in the early 1970s, Orthodox Jews have been leery of leafy vegetables, such as lettuce and parsley, because of insect infestation. According to Jewish law, eating any insect is forbidden, and the rules regarding inspection of produce are very strict.

Inspecting leafy vegetables that grow under normal conditions is so involved and difficult that some observant Jews insist on one of the “Gush Katif” vegetable brands that are grown under conditions that greatly reduce insect infestation. The original “bug-free” vegetables were grown in hydroponic hothouses in the Jewish communities in Gaza that were disbanded in the 2005 disengagement, but the term has been expanded to cover any leafy vegetables grown under conditions that prevent insect infestation.

Many of the farms that grow these vegetables use Meteor nets, reducing the number of insects that are able to get through by nearly 100%. According to Klayman, most of the produce shipped from farms to warehouses and stores have very low levels of infestation, thanks to Meteor nets, which are used in the large majority of Israeli farms today. However, in order to qualify for “Gush Katif” status, the vegetables need strict rabbinical supervision.

Established in 1938 by Avi Klayman’s father, David Klayman, Meteor employs 60 full-time employees and sells around the world, including to several Arab countries. Klayman said that the company has been working on improving its nets to even further reduce the number of bugs that can get through, to the extent that the company’s nets can now bar even thrips, the very small insects (about 1/25 to 1/8 of an inch long) that plague leafy vegetables. These, and other improvements, will be on display at Agrotech 2012, the company said.

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