The Future of Food Production

Interview on Protected Horticulture and Greenhouse Technology. 

Continuing our ‘Inside Out’ series, in which we put the spotlight on our contributors, we talk to Reuven Losh: SVP, Head of Greenhouse, Projects & Services Division at Netafim, an Orbia business. Gakon Netafim is the greenhouse business unit of Netafim, and contributor to the EatThis network.

@Reuven, can you share more on the history of your company Netafim?
Of course! Netafim is an Israeli company that was founded in 1965 on a kibbutz in the Negev desert. Our focus has always been on water management solutions, which is especially important in a country like Israel, where water is scarce and agricultural production is crucial for food security. The harsh climatic conditions in the region make it challenging to grow crops in the open field, and greenhouses or shade houses are needed to protect crops from extreme weather and insects.

While we were exploring alternatives for sustainable food production, we stumbled quite by accident upon drip irrigation when we noticed that a tree that received water in measured doses was growing much better than others. We continued experimenting with the concept and eventually perfected drip irrigation systems, which have become our core business.”

Coming from Israel, with its climatological challenges, what is your take on the value of horticulture in challenging climates and its potential regarding the production of healthy food?
I believe that horticulture is essential in challenging climates, as it can provide a sustainable source of healthy food. Nonetheless, drip irrigation is the first step towards achieving greater sustainability in agriculture and horticulture.  With drip irrigation systems, producers can increase their yields by 30-35% while using less water. The added benefit of greenhouses is that they also use less land to achieve the same harvests and they provides more precision and stability, which is especially important as the climate continues to change. Given that only 10% of irrigated lands worldwide use drip irrigation, there is still much progress to be made.

At Netafim, we are currently working on carbon credit systems for farmers to finance their drip irrigation systems. This initiative aims to accelerate the transition to sustainable food production, particularly in developing countries. ” 

– Interview continues after video – 

Netafim is a specialist in irrigation systems, but you are responsible for the company’s greenhouse division. How is Netafim and Gakon Netafim expanding into other focus areas?
While water management systems remain at the core of our business, at Gakon Netafim, we are expanding into other areas as well. One area where we see a lot of potential is turnkey solutions for commercial horticulture. For us, building long-term relationships with our customers is key, and as they expand and invest in new technologies, we see it as our responsibility to further develop products and solutions that will meet their changing needs.

And let’s not forget what the real issue is. As the global population continues to grow, the demand for healthy and sustainably produced food is on the rise and this is where protected horticulture comes in. In order to keep feeding a growing population, I believe that production in protected environments like greenhouses will become increasingly important. These environments mitigate the impact of extreme weather, shorten supply chains, and foster organic production. I can speak from personal experience growing up in Israel, and I know that even large countries like Canada benefit greatly from greenhouse technology.

In recent years, we have also seen protected horticulture become more popular with investors. While the sector was traditionally dominated by small and medium-sized family-owned companies, we are now seeing a variety of investors, from those with a purpose to those who lack growing knowledge and opt for turnkey operations managed by specialist managers, to real estate investors. With the growing popularity of food production, I can even envision companies like Amazon stepping in to streamline distribution and logistics.” 

Back to you personally, Reuven, did you always have the desire to work in horticulture?
That’s a great question! To be honest, if you had told me that I would end up working in agri- and horticulture, I wouldn’t have believed you. Coming from a tech background, I never imagined myself in this field.

However, since making the switch, I have become fascinated by the sustainable and efficient food production taking place today. I strongly believe that our technology benefits crops, people, and the planet and this drives me to continue moving forward with Netafim and ensuring that we keep coming up with new innovations and technologies.