DatesCredit: Flash 90/Hadas Porush

Date harvest season kicked off this weekend at Kibbutz Eilot in the south and will continue for two months.

Dates are one of Israel's most profitable agricultural exports, and in recent years, according to a Yediot Ahronot report, dates, along with avocados and mangoes, have taken the place of citrus fruits and peppers, which used to be the stars of the show in Israeli agricultural produce abroad. Today, Israel supplies about 60% of the global market for medjool dates, which are considered the highest quality dates and are most in demand.

Doron Geva, Kibbutz Eilot's business manager, told Yediot that "around 140 employees will participate in this year's harvest, of which 40 are in the kibbutz's packaging department, which recently purchased a sophisticated sorting machine, which photographs each date from 18 different angles. The harvest itself is carried out manually with the help of cranes 20 meters (65 feet) high."

In the past three years, the price of Israeli dates rose from $7,500 to $10,000 a ton, according to Yediot, which means that date growers are receiving an average of NIS 20-23 ($5-6) a kilogram, with the best dates being able to yield NIS 37 ($10) per kg. to growers. By comparison, Israeli farmers receive between NIS 1–3 ($.28 -.85) per kg. for vegetables such as cucumbers and tomatoes.

Ofri Dimentman, who is responsible for the date department of the Mehadrin export company told Yediot that medjool dates are exported to some 30 countries, most notably Turkey. Israeli dates are even sought in Arab countries, to which they are sold through a third-party broker.