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Project Tests if Southern Pines Can Grow in Israeli Desert

August 21, 1989

ATLANTA (AP) _ If Southern pines can make it there, they’ll make it anywhere, say the architects of an experiment to grow hybrid trees in the Negev Desert of Israel.

Using seeds for ″super pines″ developed in the Southeast by Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific Corp., scientists are waiting to see if such trees will thrive in the dry, unfriendly climate of the desert in a project they say could boost the fight against world hunger and global warming.

If the trees, to be helped along with irrigation, take root in the desert climate, there will be potential for advancing the capability to grow food in other non-productive regions of the world, said Stuart Paskow, spokesman for the Jewish National Fund, which conducts agricultural research in Israel.

″If it works, we can go into the Third World,″ he said from New York. ″The ultimate answer to hunger is to put the source of food where the people are.″

Trees are essential to advancing agriculture in arid environments because they stabilize the land by slowing erosion, Paskow said. The so-called super pine, or loblolly pine, developed by Georgia-Pacific in Georgia and South Carolina through the cross-pollination of several species, matures more rapidly than ordinary pines.

Georgia-Pacific donated three pounds of seedlings, enough for about 100,000 trees, to the Jewish National Fund three months ago. Other than making sure the seedlings get water, the experiment at this point is pretty much a waiting game, Paskow said.

″The main thing is, if they germinate then we’re in business,″ he said. ″It should be about a year.″

By employing a ″drip irrigation″ system that distributes the scarce water according to plants’ needs, the Negev has been able to support some other plantings, Paskow said.

The Negev is Israel’s driest region, and without irrigation the pines wouldn’t stand a chance, said Walter Jark, corporate director of forest resources for Georgia-Pacific.

″If you overcome the dryness, they ought to do quite well,″ he said.

Jark noted there are few sure things in nature.

″The main obstacle we know about is the water. But this is a test - we might find other obstacles.″

Jark said the super pines have never been tested in areas with as little rainfall as the Negev. However, except for the dryness, the mild climate in Israel is not much different than that of the southeastern United States, he said.

Researchers say a successful pine planting in the Negev also would bode well for efforts to combat the global warming phenomenon, or greenhouse effect, by providing more trees to absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, Paskow said. Carbon dioxide, which traps solar heat, is one of the factors attributed by scientists to the global warming.

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