DDD Conference

Dr. Yael Laor

All-in-One? One-Fits-All? Lessons Learned from Four Years of the Model Farm for Sustainable Agriculture, Newe Ya’ar, Volcani Institute, Israel

Volcani Institute, Agricultural Research Organization, Israel

The Model Farm for Sustainable Agriculture was established four years ago in Newe Ya’ar, the northern campus of Volcani Institute ( https://www.modelfarm-aro.org/?lang=en). This is a pioneer mega project, aimed at studying, demonstrating and implementing sustainable agricultural practices. We built a full scale real connection between research and practice of sustainable agriculture. Our five key principles are (1) Reducing external inputs; pesticides, fertilizers, water, and energy. (2) Recycling all organic wastes; “zero waste”. (3) Conserving the soil. (4) Designing an ecosystem that sustains and supports agriculture, biodiversity, and local habitats, and (5) Increasing animal welfare. With those key principles, we still should demonstrate sustainable economic revenue to farmers over the long-term (what economy?). We recruited parts of the Newe Ya’ar farmland (150 ha) and cattle (200 heads) and translated our ‘big ideas’ into 5 main platforms (i) Almond orchard (ii) Field crops (iii) A buffer strip along the upper section of Nahalal River (iv) Ruminant Care & Feeding housing, and (v) Waste recycling. The almond orchard is divided into subunits: One is designed to study weed management and service (cover) crops, to minimize soil erosion and reduce herbicides use, a second includes wasp resistant cultivars, to reduce pesticides use, and a third includes drought tolerant cultivars, to cope with climatic changes. The platform of the field crops is also divided into subunits. One is for alternative forage crops, a second is to practice service crops and organic additives, and the third is for precision agriculture practices. The buffer strip embeds research into a full river restoration program. The new ruminant housing (under work) is thoughtfully designed to improve animal welfare, production and profitability, and the waste recycling ‘park’ is equipped with a full-scale composting drum, demo-scale anaerobic digestion and wetland, and lab-scale hydrothermal processing and composting simulations. The Model Farm has been equipped with state-of-the-art agricultural machinery as well as drones equipped with RGB, multispectral, thermal and LIDAR sensing. We are not an organic farm, neither ‘pure’ regenerative. We operate in light of the perception that the chances of achieving sustainability depend on the development and assimilation of technological innovation alongside a holistic view and re-adoption of traditional approaches.

 

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