Jan. 14, 2016
The tomato mosaic virus disease, which is raging these days in the Negev, is destroying entire tomato greenhouses, Yediot Ahronot reported. In tomatoes, the virus causes the foliage to show mosaic (mottled) areas with alternating yellowish and dark green areas. Leaves are sometimes fern-like in appearance and sharply pointed. Infections of young plants reduce fruit set and occasionally cause blemishes and distortions of the fruit. The dark green areas of the mottle often appear thicker and somewhat elevated giving the leaves a blister-like appearance. Often the entire plant is dwarfed and flowers are discolored.
Since Rosh Hashanah eve, Israeli consumers have been suffering from a shortage of some vegetables—most notably tomatoes and cucumbers—and a sharp rise in prices. The exceptionally hot weather in Israel in August and early September, in addition to the virus, has hit tomato and cucumber crops. A special government fund that compensates farmers in times of natural disasters, has received 350 complaints about the damage to tomatoes, three times the number in previous years during the same period. However, complaints about heat damage to cucumbers were equal in number to last year—about 100. According to the Farmers Association, tomato yields have decreased by 40% due to the heat wave and 10% more because of the virus. Low supply and high demand for the holidays led to the rise in prices.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi), acted only after produce prices had begun to rise, and the newspapers were predicting a shortage before the holidays, according to Israel Channel 2 News. In early September, Ariel announced the removal of restrictions on duty-free imported vegetables from Jordan and elsewhere. Ultra-Orthodox Israeli consumers have been relying on produce from Gaza throughout the previous year, in compliance with the Shmitah year restrictions.
Israeli farmers blame the government, particularly the Ministry of Agriculture, for a lack of planning. They also accuse the wholesale chains of aggressively pressing farmers to reduce prices, leading to some of the farmers leaving the industry altogether. The government blames the weather.