Ohio farmers, researchers boost agricultural ties with Israel

Ohio farmers, researchers boost agricultural ties with Israel
By The Associated Press
October 3, 2005

Ohio farmers and researchers have begun working with their counterparts in Israel on projects ranging from beef-cattle genetics to disease-suppressing compost in hopes the relationship will open new markets for both places.

"There is great interest in the Holy Land on the part of our farmers. They see Israel as a gateway to the Middle East and other countries for their products," said Sam Hoenig, president of the Cleveland-based Negev Foundation, which is spearheading the initiative.

The program, which was launched in late 2003, has been fueled by about $350,000 in government and private funds. Its mission is to agriculturally develop the southern, largely desert portion of Israel, but researchers began with sharing agricultural research.

The Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center has exchanged information with Israeli scientists on health-promoting chemicals that occur in plants, with an eye toward using them in soy-based breads to lower cholesterol levels. Another project involved possibly using microbes in compost to suppress plant diseases.

The scientists have also looked at energy-efficient greenhouses developed in Israel to see whether they would work in Ohio. And researchers have exchanged information on cattle genetics and breeding, which leaves Ohio poised to begin exporting calves to Israel after it lifts its ban on U.S. beef imports because of fears of "mad cow" disease.

"Ohio is pretty much first in line because of the homework we've done and the relationships we've built in the past couple of years," Hoenig said. "From an economic point of view, it globalizes the beef industry here in Ohio."

John Stevenson, who owns a 400-acre farm in the Circleville area, was one of several farmers who went on a trade mission to Israel last year. The group visited Israeli feed lots and experimental agricultural stations.

Stevenson said he was surprised at the resourcefulness of the Israelis in dealing with less-than-ideal agricultural conditions, such as converting waste from fruit into feed for their cattle.

"You would not think they would have the feed, but they do," he said.

Hoenig said the initiative has resulted in Israeli companies looking for business opportunities in Ohio.

He said Solbar Industries Inc., which produces soy proteins, is negotiating to open a factory in the northeast Ohio town of Orrville. If the deal goes through, the company could invest up to $20 million and employ as many as 250 workers, he said.

Representatives from 15 agricultural and food-related Israeli companies had a pavilion last month at the Ohio Farm Science Review, a high-profile annual exposition of farm machinery, equipment and goods.

In February, a group of Ohio farmers will also return to Israel to meet with Israeli farmers and study how they grow their crops. The Israelis have special irrigation and fertilization technologies.

Then in May, Ohio farmers will display their products at an agricultural exposition in Tel Aviv.