Mobile lab helps farmers

An Israeli company has developed a mobile lab to help agronomists in Africa and Asia analyze and diagnose plants and soil to prevent over-fertilization of crops.   An Israeli father-and-son “farm team” is rolling out a mobile laboratory to help …

An Israeli company has developed a mobile lab to help agronomists in Africa and Asia analyze and diagnose plants and soil to prevent over-fertilization of crops.

 

An Israeli father-and-son “farm team” is rolling out a mobile laboratory to help agronomists in Africa and Asia.

Shelef Agricultural Laboratory, an 11-year-old company specializing in the analysis and diagnostics of plants and soil, developed the mobile lab to assist large farm operators in practicing what is known as “precise agriculture.” This involves regulating the correct amount of fertilizer and protecting crops from disease and pests.

Shelef’s founder, former vegetable grower Oded Yaffe, has conducted agricultural research and development for the past 40 years. His son Uri, an agronomy student at Hebrew University’s Rehovot campus, serves as Shelef’s operations manager and unofficial English-language spokesman. 

“My father saw a serious need for a mobile laboratory in his consulting work around the world,” Uri Yaffe explains to ISRAEL21C. Like many other Israeli agriculture experts, Yaffe provides assistance to farmers abroad – many of them in developing nations. 

As consumer demand for alternatives to hazardous pesticides and chemical fertilizers has escalated, so have the number of examinations and inspections farmers need to perform routinely. But in countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Georgia, and China, the vast distances between fields and labs make the process unwieldy and can render test results inaccurate. 

From water conservation to pest prevention

Shelef’s mobile lab solves the problem by providing all necessary tools on the back of a truck or other towed vehicle that can be driven right onto the field. Performing soil and leaf analyses on site allows the farmer to determine the exact amount of fertilizer required for the crops. That prevents over-fertilization, which creates water pollution, and helps conserve water used for irrigation. 

The mobile lab also allows for rapid discovery and analysis of diseases and pests that may be developing and spreading in the field and crops. In addition, it can be used as a “mobile classroom” for professional training of farmers and their workers on any kind of farm.

“This is intended mainly for sales abroad,” says Uri Yaffe. “In the US, there are already labs that give these kinds of services. Different solutions are needed in other countries.”

The Yaffes introduced the unit at Agritech 2009, an international agricultural exhibition which took place this month in Tel Aviv. This annual event, now in its 17th year, is expected to bring together more than 7,000 foreign visitors from 115 countries to interact with leading agriculture technology companies.

The mobile lab will carry a price tag of $200,000 to $350,000, depending on the accessories required. Though no units have yet been sold, Shelef is negotiating business deals with governments and semi-private farming enterprises in several countries.

“We sell the knowledge, service, consulting, and training,” says Yaffe. “Our customers understand the benefit of this kind of service, because it pays itself back sometimes even in a few months. In Kenya, we calculated expenses with a local farmer and realized that in under one year they can pay back their costs just by saving on fertilizer and increasing yields.”

About Abigail Klein Leichman

Abigail Klein Leichman is a writer and associate editor at ISRAEL21c. Prior to moving to Israel in 2007, she was a specialty writer and copy editor at a daily newspaper in New Jersey and has freelanced for a variety of newspapers and periodicals since 1984.