BLACKSBURG, VA. -- Virginia farmers can learn a lot from their counterparts in Israel, says a group of Virginians that visited the Middle East country last month.

The tour by the Virginia-Israel Commission's subcommittee on agriculture and natural resources focused on all aspects of agriculture with an emphasis on production and marketing, said Mitch Geasler, director of the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, who headed the delegation.

Gov. Gerald Baliles established the Virginia-Israel Commission last year to promote the exchange of information, people and possibly trade between Virginia and Israel.

"Although we were interested in all aspects of agriculture, we especially wanted to look at how Israelis market what they produce and how they diversify their production," Geasler said. "We wanted to see how they make production decisions."

Geasler said the group was particularly impressed with Israel's produce, flower and dairy operations. The observers noted that even the smallest producers know which markets are being targeted for their products and why various policies are being followed.

As an example, Geasler pointed to a valley with excellent soil and adequate water. The land was suitable for growing almost any type of crop, he said, yet the Israelis had covered the soil with two feet of sand and were raising flowers, which their marketing studies showed was the most profitable use of the land.

The way the Israelis made their agricultural decisions impressed the Virginia delegation, Geasler said. The process begins by determining a market for a product. Only after the market is found is cultivation begun.

"They want to grow and export the crops that will bring the best returns," he said. "They are willing to change if the market conditions dictate it."