Millions of our modern plants originate as cuttings in an ancient land–Israel. Because of their desert climate, Israeli horticultural producers are among the most efficient in the world. In November, Agrexco, which represents a number of cuttings propagators hosted a group of growers and brokers. They shared their observations and experiences with us.
“Anyone who can turn a wasteland into an oasis has my attention,” says grower Dave Eastburn of Gro ‘N Sell in Chalfont, Pa. “In America, so many of our resources come naturally and we too easily take for granted the abundances of our land. In Israel, you see how little can be turned into a supplier to the world in agriculture, technology, medicine and survival, to name a few. The innovations that originate here give me ideas to integrate into my business.”
In addition to Eastburn, the group included Marty and Candi Gerace from Welby Gardens in Colorado; Joe Simone and Jeff Nameth from Fred C. Gloeckner & Co.; Vaughn Fletcher and Scott Crownover from McHutchison; and Steve Blacksmith, Karen Bunting and Daryl Bottenhagen of Ball Horticultural Co.
Agrexco is an import/export company headquartered in Tel Aviv. It manages logistics, marketing, accounting and other administrative tasks for the growers it represents. In addition to unrooted cuttings, there are growers who produce greenhouse vegetables, fresh cut flowers and blooming potted plants. U.S. growers typically visit with Agrexco operations during the California Pack Trials each April at Pacific Plug & Liner in Watsonville, Calif.
Just like in the United States, the growers in the Agrexco group are family-owned operations but highly specialized.
Cohen Nurseries, which is known for vegetative annuals, produces 150 million cuttings in just over 1 million square feet of greenhouses. The tour group saw the trial gardens with new varieties, the laboratory, renovated offices and state-of-the-art greenhouses in Nir Chen and Kfar Hanagid.
“For Cohen, we’re the number one broker in North America,” says Ball’s Blacksmith. “The company takes sanitation very seriously and is very meticulous in how it handles and produces the product. You can see it carries all the way through to middle management and the hourly people. Everyone is well trained and disciplined when entering the greenhouse.”
Cohen’s facilities are state-of-the-art, he adds. “Their yields are exceptional due to high light. They also do an exceptional job collecting rain water and recycling runoff. They fill their reservoir three times in the winter, which helps supplement the water they pull from an outside system.”
In addition to producing unrooted cuttings for its own sales, Cohen manages stock for breeders worldwide. “We just moved all our Suntory production to Cohen,” Blacksmith says. “We also have an exclusive arrangement with Cohen to produce the Super Cal petunias bred by Sakata from private stock. We’ve got quite a few products with Cohen.”
None of the cuttings producers overlap production in the Agrexco group. They are all complimentary offerings.
Hishtil Nurseries, which is considered the largest young plant producer in Israel, provides the world with unrooted herb and perennial cuttings and caters to the local market. The tour group visited Hishtil’s facilities in Afula and Nechalim.
Jaldety Nurseries in Kfar Hanagid offers boutique, niche items and specializes in basket/bedding annuals and perennial cuttings. Schwartz Nursery in Ein-Habsor is a respected geranium cutting supplier featuring Endisch genetics.
The group also got to see Agrexco’s sea transit operation and walk on the high-tech vessel, Biotop. They also visited key bulb producers, Asa Flowers and Saad Asaf, as well as bare-root producer, Hochberg Nurseries.
McHutchison’s Fletcher says he was impressed with how efficient the packaging and transport system was to the seaport in Tel Aviv for ocean freight shipping and packing terminal for air shipment. “I also was impressed by the beauty of Jerusalem with its hilly country, trees and of course, the holy sites!” he says.
While in Israel, the group got to see the most significant tourist and religious pilgrimage attractions in Jerusalem, Masada, Nazareth, Galilee and The Dead Sea.
Nothing To Fear
Simone at Gloeckner highly recommends this trip to growers. “Absolutely,” he says. “The security and safety issues were never a factor, as we were in the very good care of Agrexco people throughout the trip.”
Nameth, who traveled with Simone, says his wife was very concerned about him traveling to the Middle East, but he found there was nothing to fear. “There is no fear factor at all,” he says. “It’s a non-issue. I got wanded when I went into the shopping mall, but they do it to everybody. Safety was the least of our worries.”
One of the hosts, Fred Cohen of Agrexco says, “Agrexco tries to make it as enjoyable as possible for clients and hopes they experience not only an informative time with our growers but get a taste, (let’s not forget the food!) of the culture of the land, as well. Meals are enjoyed as a group together with a member of Agrexco, our growers or a combination thereof.”
Blacksmith, who has been to Israel six times since 1997, says it is his favorite international trip. “The food, people, hospitality, history and diversity are exceptional. The Israelis are aware of the apprehension growers may have visiting for the first time. That’s why their hospitality goes beyond exceptional. They’re proud of their business and proud of their country.”