Harvesting of Medjool dates in Israel has been increasing over the last couple of weeks as harvesting of Bari dates winds down. This year’s Medjool crop is expected to be 10 percent larger than the previous season, as Medjools continue to be popular in Europe.
Production of Bari dates, south of the Dead Sea, wrapped up this week and harvesting in the northern part of Israel will continue for a couple of more weeks. Production of Medjool dates, on the other hand, is on the upswing. Harvesting began in the southern part of the country and will move north over the next few weeks. Medjool production is expected to last through August, though product will be available from storage throughout the year. “There are more growers and many growers have planted more trees,” said Field Produce Marketing’s CEO- Avi Dagul, explaining why there’s a 10 percent bump in production this year. “You have to wait between six to seven years from the time you plant a date tree until it yields fruit, and we are seeing more young trees reach maturity.”
More growers are entering the Medjool date business because that variety has been very popular in Europe. Attractive prices, which spur more growers into planting dates, are partly affected by the lack of competition during the Israeli export season.
“Tunisia only has Deglet Nour dates, so there is no competition there,” noted Avi. “The U.S. and Mexico mainly sell their dates in North America. South Africa only has small quantities and their season doesn’t overlap with ours. There are new plantings in Morocco, Jordan and Egypt, but those trees are not producing fruit yet. It will take five or six years before we’ll see competition, but then it will be a tough one.”
For now, Israeli exporters enjoy good value from the European market, which takes about 80 percent of Israeli Medjool export shipments. Avi laments the fact that there’s no coordinated marketing effort between all of the country’s exporters, but that hasn’t been a problem so far because the market has been so good.
“Demand for Medjools grows every year,” he said. “The problem is not really demand. Our biggest problem is the exchange rate between shekels and euros, as well as the problem with the United Kingdom leaving the European Union.” He added that shippers are looking into Asian markets in order to mitigate the effects of any problems with the European market, but that’s still a work in progress.
As far as diversifying product offerings, Avi pointed out the success of the Bonbon variety, which is a premium date that has gained a devoted Market following France. Though not widely available, the variety has established a niche market among consumers who appreciate high quality dates.
“We have to invest in the Bonbon to increase the market for it,” said Avi. “It’s a very tasty fruit, but the logistic demands are significant because it requires special treatment.”