Tef – a multipurpose new crop in Israel
|Adopting tef as a new crop in Israel requires studies and a redefinition of many key aspects of the crop's management|
|Shiran Ben-Zeev and Yehoshua Saranga; email@example.com|
|March 16, 2021|
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture Food and Environment, Rehovot, Israel
Tef [Eragrostis tef (Zucc.) Trotter; also known as teff] is a panicle-bearing cereal crop plant. It has a thin culm, long narrow leaves and a thousand seed weight of 200–400 mg, making it the smallest-grained cereal  (Figure 2). It has a C4 photosynthetic pathway, which allows for efficient utilization of high solar radiation. Tef is highly durable to various stresses and indeed, it thrives in a variety of environments.
Tef grains are gluten-free and contain an excellent balance of essential amino acids , as well as high concentrations of fibers, minerals (e.g. calcium, zinc, magnesium, iron, phosphorous and copper) and vitamins (e.g. vitamin A, vitamin C, niacin, riboflavin and thiamin). Tef is also known as an excellent forage crop thanks to its high feed quality, crude protein content, fast growth rate, and its suitability for multiple harvests. Recognition of the unique nutritional properties of tef grain and forage has raised global interest in its production and consumption. Today, in addition to Ethiopia, tef is cultivated as a forage and grain crop in the United States, Australia, Kenya, South Africa and India.
Figure 2: Tef seeds
Tef was first tested in Israel in the 1930s, and found to be a promising forage crop, however, it was not adopted as a new crop. In the last decades, interest in tef has risen in Israel following the aliyah of Ethiopian Jews during the early 1990s, who continue to consume it as their main staple food. In recent years,a ban on tef export, put into effect in 2008 by the Ethiopian government, caused a rise in tef grain and flour prices, enhancing the interest in tef production in Israel. For these reasons, as well as the interest in diversifying field crops rotation, the agricultural community in Israel is now reconsidering local tef production for grain and forage.
Figure 3: Tef response to herbicides
Adopting tef as a new crop in Israel requires studies and a redefinition of many key aspects of the crop's management, some of which have been studied in our laboratory over the last few years:
5. Lodging - The major yield-reducing problem in tef is lodging, which can cause as much as 35% yield losses. Lodging, defined as the permanent displacement of the stem from the vertical position (Figure 5), is caused by an inability of either shoot or root tissues to support the plant against external forces (rain, wind etc.). Our recent published paper reported that lower sowing density reduced tef lodging without any yield penalty . An accurate mechanical sowing of high-quality seeds can enable the establishment of the optimal crop density, which will in turn reduce lodging and improve productivity.
Figure 4: Field-testing of tef
Ongoing studies: Optimizing the irrigation regime is an important step towards the establishment of tef as a commercial crop in Israel. Aside from its effect on plant performance, water is also a major input in tef production and hence it has a crucial impact on profitability. In our current studies we characterized the impact of various irrigation regimes on tef grain and forage yield and quality. In another study, we aim to Identify the genomic control of major traits in tef including lodging, drought tolerance and forage quality.
Our previous studies and small-scale commercial production demonstrated that tef is a promising candidate as a new grain and forage crop for the Israeli agriculture. A breakthrough in tef production in Israel requires further development of the crop management practices and selection of tef genotypes better adapted to the local conditions. The knowledge gained in the current study is expected to benefit farmers in Israel as well as in Ethiopia and other countries and contribute to agriculture sustainability and food security.