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"Malou Even: "Optimistic despite 30% decrease Israeli bell pepper volume"

Israeli bell pepper sector from fifty to ten exporters

For Israeli growers of bell peppers, three consecutive dramatic years have left their mark on this season. The production has decreased from about 130,000 tonnes in the past season, to 90-95,000 tonnes for the coming season (-30%). Despite the past meagre years and a late start for the upcoming season, Malou Even of Arava Export Growers hopes that this year will once again be a positive one for their growers.

Malou Even
The late start to the season, probably week 3 of November, is related to the extreme heat in August and September. "The first planting was lost due to the high temperatures. We will therefore start later, just like the Spanish," Malou says. "Spain is also seeing a delayed season due to the heavy rainfall they had. We'll have to wait and see what the start of the season will be like, so we won't be at cross purposes, but I'm very hopeful," she continues optimistically.

Decrease production
The huge decrease in bell pepper production is partly because it's not profitable anymore for growers to grow bell peppers for export, but it's also largely caused by the government. "The government greatly contributed by subsidizing growers who would switch to another product otherwise," the Arava bell pepper specialist explains.

Growers have mainly switched to dates, and secondly to eggplants. The eggplants are aimed at the local market. "For export, you need shiny eggplants. That's the case after harvest, but by the time they arrive in Europe, they are matte, and the consumer doesn't want that," Malou goes on to say. "Dates are traditionally a high-quality export product from Israel. That's why dates are a godsend for many growers. The trees need three years to be able to produce something, and are ready for full production in seven years, but that isn't stopping the Israeli growers. Some growers have planted young date trees among the bell pepper plants, and are phasing out the bell pepper cultivation."
Fewer bell pepper exporters
Besides fewer growers, there are also significantly fewer exporters. Of the fifty bell pepper exporters, Israel has only about ten left. "These aren't exporters who export one container now and then, but exporters who export volume regularly," Malou clarifies. Arava Export Growers is Israel's biggest exporter of bell peppers, and was able to retain the same volume despite the difficult circumstances, but many others, particularly smaller exporters, were forced to quit. "There were also many growers who did the export themselves. Not all of them were able to survive in the recent disappointing seasons."

The past year was also difficult. It started hopeful with the Russian boycott, which seemed to be very positive for countries like Israel, but in the middle of the bell pepper season, the rouble collapsed. "Many exporters switched to the Russian market straight away, losing them a lot of money. In addition, some exporters also had difficulty getting their money from clients."

Arava Export Growers also focused more on Russia, but wanted to keep at least 40% of the volume for Western European clients. "I really wanted to keep supplying consistently to our regular clients, to retain those clients and not give them the feeling we were letting them down. It wasn't easy to keep our heads above water, but in general it went well, in view of the circumstances."

Improved quality
In recent years, quality problems have also caused trouble for the growers. Due to unexpected weather conditions growers hadn't taken into account. "We've had winters with three consecutive weeks of rain. That had a huge impact on the quality of our bell peppers, because they're grown outside."

The Israeli exporter started to invest more in this, to better service clients. Traditionally, growers are always focused on as much harvest as possible, which is how they are rewarded. Arava Export Growers and the growers have joined forces to move the focus to quality. "For instance, this is about planting other, stronger varieties, and purchasing plastic covers to protect against severe weather conditions, but that's not all. We started to ask clients what they wanted in terms of size and colour, to grow more 'custom made'. Of course we can't give 100% guarantees, because we are dependent on the weather, but we can do as much as possible, and to begin with I expect higher quality and better colour distribution than last year," says Malou Even.

For more information:
Malou Even
Arava Export Growers Ltd.
Tel : +972-3-972-8-104
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