Land in Israel

Agriculture Management

JOEL YOSEF BUSNER

JOEL YOSEF BUSNER

Director, Buy a Piece of Israel
Founder, L'Ma'an Ha'am

Our version of land management currently consists of the process of developing the land into a fruit orchard (currently olives) and then maintaining its growth with water management, fertilization, annual end of season pruning, etc.  Looking forward, we will also be acquiring older orchards some with almond trees that development will be replaced by repair, meaning the older orchard will be rejuvenated to increase its productivity.  The main objective in each case is to maximize the potential for produce/product sales for our investors while remaining loyal to our ideology of working exclusively with Avoda Ivrit (Jewish labor) while using organic supplies and materials as much as possible.  In addition, we don’t participate in ‘Heter Mechira’ permits, which means zero income every seven (7) years.

Development and Financing it

The development of the properties we manage is not overly financially risky for the following reasons:

-No lands are purchased with loans, liens, or mortgages

-All labor for the first 4 years are pre-paid by land investors

-All supplies including the tree saplings are pre-paid by land investors

-Water which is expensive in Israel is calculated for 4 years in advance and is in the pre-paid 4 year management budget

The lands being developed for olive tree management are first plowed and cleared of rocks and any unnecessary debris.  Holes are drilled for each tree to be planted.  Trees are then purchased and delivered to the location.  Irrigation lines are purchased and installed and attached to the main water meter.  Trees are then planted with support posts for the first year or two until they are strong enough to stand erect by themselves.  Water is supplied via irrigation lines during the summer months and is monitored carefully by the farmer.  All unnecessary growth around the bottoms of the trees are cut and discarded.  Fertilization is distributed around each tree a couple of times per year.  At the end of the autumn season, the trees are pruned (branches trimmed) so that the trees will grow lower and wider with maximum sun exposure.

All cuttings from the pruning of the trees are cleaned away.  In the spring there is excessive growth of weeds and thorns and we need to go around with cutting machinery to rid the area of these intrusive annoyances that can also choke the growth of the trees.  This is very labor intensive because we do not spray with chemicals.  This produces a healthier oil for consumer consumption, but much more difficult to manage.

Labor

By employing all Jewish labor in Israel, it is easy to understand that day workers, seasonal workers, and our farmer, will be paid more than using Arab workers or imported Thai workers.  In addition, those involved regularly with managing the properties are also receiving bonuses for positive results.  We are strong believers in profit sharing with employees who are committed to the projects.

While the higher paid labor costs make competitiveness very challenging, we do benefit from the use of ideological volunteers.  Many schools and land investors enjoy the challenge of doing some field work.  While their labor is free, we often supply transportation and a hearty meal at the end of the work shift for volunteers.

Maintenance After the first 4 Years

After Orlah we end the 4th summer by harvesting olives in the autumn, usually in November.  We again use many volunteers and all Jewish paid labor staff, many whom are working with incentives to earn more by producing more.

Following the 4th year, the original management budget is expired and our company takes full responsibility not only for physical management, also for all expenses including labor, water, etc.  At the end of the harvest, the olives are taken quickly to the olive press to produce boutique quality, extra virgin olive oil.

After 2 months when the oil has settled, we pour the clean oil into 1 and 2 liter bottles and containers and sell them locally, mainly to families who are interested in purchasing only the best, high quality, virgin olive oil.

It is from the sale of the oil that our company can continue to pay for all expenses in continuing to maintain an olive grove.  The example that we are working with: 75% of gross sales to the company and 25% of gross sales to the investors, we feel is a fair distribution of income.

Risks and Possible Losses in Agriculture Management

Vandalism can cause severe financial losses.  Fire can burn trees.  Thank G-d, the land remains and earth is very fertile.  While fences are installed to ensure greater security, the company will soon be employing the Israel Dog Unit to perform ongoing security patrols of the olive groves under our management.  The additional security which we will utilize will allow us more options for more economical insurance policies to protect the interests of our land investors and our work.

Conclusion

While the current system of development and management combined with the relatively high price of private agricultural land in Israel limits the income capabilities, not engaging in debt and utilizing loyal, trustworthy, literally hands on management ensures that there at least will be a modest return on investment without any drastic instablility.

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