Behind the Headlines: for Farmers, Year of the Floods is Worse Than Year of the Scuds

The fields of Moshav Masua, a collective farm in the Jordan Valley, should be ready for harvesting about now. The fact that they are not will cost its farmers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The members of Masua are not alone. Throughout the country, farmers are still coming to grips with the havoc wreaked by Israel’s worst winter weather in more than a century.

While Israelis referred to 1991 as the year of the Scuds. 1992 is already being called the year of the floods. Add to that the record-cold temperatures and unprecedented snowfalls that have characterized this winter, and the result is hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

The pained look on the face of Masua’s secretary, Eli Gutman, as he walked through the fields said it all.

“The eggplants were the hardest hit,” he said, pointing to row upon row of shriveled plants. “The green peppers were also badly damaged by the moisture and extreme cold, and so were many of the flowers.”

At the flower-packing plant, he fingered a bunch of narcissus and pointed to the little brown flecks that mar the petals. “Because of these, we can’t sell the flowers abroad. Therefore, we’ll need to market them locally at a lower price,” he said.

Though the moshav was fortunate in many respects — some crops were unaffected, and most of the damaged fields will yield produce in the future — a good deal of this season’s yield was destroyed.

While cold snaps have previously hit the picturesque Jordan Valley — a region renowned for its mild temperatures and winter crops — the farmers have never had to contend with such sustained bad weather.

“Winter produce has always been our niche in the market,” observed Gutman. “During winter, there is a scarcity of vegetables and, therefore, higher prices. We’ve replanted some of the vegetables, but they won’t be ready until April or May — a time when there’s more competition and lower prices.”

GREATER LOSSES IN GALILEE, GOLAN

The losses have been even greater for farmers in Galilee and the Golan Heights. Blizzards have dropped several feet of snow in some places, causing chicken houses, cowsheds and greenhouses to collapse under the weight.

The members of Kibbutz Metsar, on the southern slope of the Golan Heights, have had to contend with all three collapsing. In addition, the cold destroyed about 35 tons of this year’s avocado crop.

Though final figures have not been tallied, Metsar Secretary Arnon Peri estimates that the kibbutz’s losses could reach $1 million. Another snowfall could raise the numbers even higher.

“Ten of our cows were killed in the last storm, and many others were injured. We were a bit luckier with the chickens, but some died as well. We’ve sent the cows to another kibbutz until we rebuild the shed, and we’re losing the income from their milk,” said Peri.

“The worst part is the avocados. Not only is this year’s crop gone, but probably the next two years’ crop as well. Insurance will cover some of this year’s losses, but what about next year, or the year after that?”

Relief, in the form of government compensation, may be on the way. On Sunday, the Cabinet voted unanimously to declare that the agriculture industry had suffered a natural disaster, thereby enabling the Natural Disaster Law to take effect.

Under this law, all farmers who can prove their losses were caused by the harsh weather — and who carry either government or private insurance — are entitled to government assistance.

The law, which the farmers associations have been fighting for, is not a panacea, however.

Many small farmers, including four from Moshav Masua, are uninsured for a variety of reasons and may not receive any compensation whatsoever.

But even when farmers are insured, there is little hope of completely recouping their losses.

“While we will receive compensation for the money we have invested in seeds and fertilizer, and for the cost of our daily labor, we have completely lost our profits,” said Gutman, the moshav secretary.

Peri of Kibbutz Metsar is also less than enthusiastic: “Even once the government declares a natural disaster, there will be a lot of debate as to what should and should not be covered,” he said. “Let’s just say we have a long way to go.”

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