Skip to main content

Northwestern

Center for Water Research

Learn More

Blog

GET Water Blog #2: Revolutionizing Sustainable Agriculture

Revolutionizing Sustainable Agriculture

by Morgan Gass and Helena Freire Haddad

Trekkers travelled to the Jojoba Hatzrim plantation to learn about sustainble agriculture and drip irrigation

For the second half of our first whole day in Israel, we headed just east of Be’er Sheva to visit the Kibbutz Hatzerim. The focus was on sustainable agriculture practices, and we visited the Jojoba Hatzrim plantation as well as the global drip irrigation company Netafim.

When we first drove into the kibbutz, our guide, Lior Mark, welcomed us to the vast and green jojoba plantation of Jojoba Hatzerim, contrasting to the dry desert climate that surrounds it. Over time, Hatzerim has adapted the crops and growing techniques to allow plants to thrive in a harsh environment. Now, Hatzerim is the world’s largest producer of the nutrient-dense oil coveted by cosmetic companies such as Estee Lauder and Loreal.

Lior Mark

We learned that this large-scale production, in an arid region that only receives few millimeters of rainfall every year, was made possible by innovative water management and technologies developed by the kibbutz’s own company, Netafim. Back in 1965, the company developed the agricultural technique “drip irrigation” that enables growing crops with minimal water use and waste. Tubes beneath the crops drip water directly onto the roots of the plants using their patented dripper technology, a small plastic mechanism inside the tubing that administers the water. This technique decreases evaporation waste and water overuse by not having water sprayed into the air or flooding fields that use more water than optimal and are prone to evaporative waste.

The trekkers journey to Netafim

This process was completely new to us, and we were shocked to learn that it has been implemented in over 110 countries, with over 150 billion dripper mechanisms sold. The technology rose from the critical water demand Israel faced at the time to enable the country to grow crops in the high temperature and dry conditions that make up most of its landmass.

In the tour, Mark expressed that the companies philosophy is that global water crises are inevitable due to water mismanagement, overuse in agriculture, explosive population growth, and global climates changing, and their technique of growing crops will be a necessity in a future where more countries are faced to address a need to grow their crops with less water.

We then went on a tour into the facilities that make the tubing and dripper mechanisms for both Israel and their international clients. This highly automated process showed the high specificity and development that their product has undertaken. We met with the lead Research and Development engineer of the company, and he explained the meticulous and individualized approach they take to each new farm that purchases their technology, such as researching the crop, climate, and other facts, and even going to the farm to take soil samples to ensure the best variation of their dripper is employed for optimal yields and longevity. Netafim is a company that revolutionized large-scale agriculture, and they make sure to aid in those using their technology to reap the full benefits of the advancement.

Hatzerim Kibbutz

GET Water Blog #1: Continuing to Make the Desert Bloom

Continuing to Make the Desert Bloom

by Valeria Apolinario and Carmen Awin-Ongya

The first visit in our GET Trek to Israel was to the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research, one of the three institutes part of the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research at Ben Gurion University. The visit was in the southern desert region of Israel known as the Negev. We traveled there from our hotel in Be’er Sheva, taking notice of the beautiful scenery as we made our way across the desert.

Noam Weisbrod, Professor of Hydrology at the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research

When we entered the fairly modern facility, we encountered a gorgeous cat, the first of many. We were ushered into an instruction room and provided Israeli cookies and coffee from a machine that would randomly go off throughout the afternoon. Our first guest speaker was the director of the Jacob Blaustein Institutes, Noam Weisbrod. He spoke about the institute’s dedication to findings solutions and better understanding the challenges of the Negev, which could be applied internationally.

Our next speaker was Shai Arnon, whose research focuses on water quality of streams, stream restoration, contaminant transport, and micro-plastics in the streams. When we asked him about the research process, he spoke about two paths: one being that the science the research is focused on will get published and could have practical use after 10 to 20 years or that research can work with industry to come up with practical applications. He gave us an example of the implementation of an online water quality monitoring system in a stream that allows for early detection of low water quality to warn those doing activities downstream, such as kayakers. This occurred using the research that he had done in previous years. He then took us to his lab and we saw the modeling systems that he uses to create conditions in streams to mimic those in nature.

One of Shai Arnon’s, Senior Lecturer, research modeling stations at the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research.

After a quick break, we were introduced to Edo Bar-Zeev. His research is on applied environmental biology with a focus on biofilms and viruses. He gave us an anecdote about an injured motorcyclist who had an infection in his leg. The motorcyclist had two choices, to either amputate his leg or undergo a lesser-known treatment, phage therapy. He chose the latter and saved his leg. Dr. Bar-Zeev researches the mechanical aspect of a phage attacking a bacterium. He uses nanoscale resolution of images done in vitro and measures the force applied by the imaging needle, which we were luckily able to see when we visited his lab. When asked about the application of his research, he stated that it was for the understanding of fundamental science and that if it would be applied, it would be in the medical field as it would be nearly  impossible to apply it to biofilms in wastewater management.

We then met Naftali Lazarovitch, who is from the French Associates Institute for Agriculture and Biotechnology of Drylands. His research focus is on water flow and solute transport in the soil-plant-atmosphere continuum to increase agricultural productivity and maintain environmental sustainability. He works with sensors and numerical models to create visual models of the effects of water flow and solute transport to better understand the constraints on plants for desert farming. However, the most important lesson that he taught us was at the beginning of his lecture where he shared his personal story of perseverance and stated that “you can start almost with nothing and in the end, you can be a professor.”

Our final speaker, Jack Gilron, briefly spoke about his research in applying desalinated water for agriculture, with a focus on electrodialysis membranes that can retain calcium and magnesium ions which would be better for crops. He then took us to the Zuckerberg Pilot Plant for Desalination and Water Treatment, where he showed us a spiral membrane commonly used at desalination plants in Israel. Next to this was a system using a specific spiral membrane that reduces nitrates in water; this system will eventually be scaled up and deployed in Ghana and India.

Overall, we had an amazing time getting to know the Zuckerberg institute and our five speakers. This experience has opened our minds to the research being done in the Negev, realizing that the desert, as well as scientific ingenuity, continues to bloom there.

Carmen Awin-Ongya and Valeria Apolinario

 

 

2019 GET Water Student Travel Blogs

Israel – Global Engineering Trek (GET): Water Program Description

This summer, a group of Northwestern freshmen and sophomores traveled to Israel as part of Northwestern University’s Institute for Sustainability and Energy (ISEN) Global Engineering Trek (GET) Water trip to Israel. Water management is a highly interdisciplinary field, and all majors, particularly in engineering, science, and social policy, will contribute to addressing critical water needs in the 21st century. Based on the successful GET Sustainability program model in Germany, the GET Water program enables Northwestern freshmen and sophomores to see Israel’s critical water infrastructure, experience its culture of innovation, and tour diverse historical and archaeological sites. GET Water features an immersive program in three regions in Israel: the populous and vibrant Tel Aviv / Dan region, the temperate and historical region around Haifa and the Northeast, and the Negev Desert in the south.

As part of the GET Trek to Israel, students will explore transboundary water issues, ancient infrastructure, and modern emerging solutions through discussions with diverse water experts, explorations of technological innovation, and visits to major water utilities, infrastructure facilities, and research centers. Trekkers will also gain exposure to global internship, research, and job opportunities including those related to startups, water desalination, water reuse, and hyper-efficient precision agriculture systems.

This blog series will feature the Trekkers’ report on each site visit and their interactions with the experts and speakers they meet on the GET Water trip. These blog posts will also feature their various student activities and highlight the key information gained.

2019 GET Water Trekkers pose with Dr. Elie Rekhess (center)