Daniel Hillel

April 4: Daniel Hillel dialogue

World Food Prize laureate to speak at public event at Mitchell Hall

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3:18 p.m., March 28, 2013--Daniel Hillel, winner of the 2012 World Food Prize, considered the “Nobel Prize of Agriculture,” will be the featured guest in the DENIN Dialogue Series at 7 p.m., Thursday, April 4, in Mitchell Hall on the University of Delaware campus in Newark.

The DENIN Dialogue Series engages experts from around the world in conversation with a knowledgeable host and with the public through an on-stage interview format and audience question and answer session. Robin Morgan, professor of animal and food sciences and former dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, will lead the dialogue with Hillel.

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For an Iowa Public Television video about Hillel, click here.

At the dialogue, Hillel will be asked about his formative life of learning to farm in Israel’s Negev Desert, his pioneering scientific work, his role as an ambassador for sustainable agriculture around the world, and his studies of water as a force shaping the cultures and conflicts of the Middle East, past and present.

In addition to his talk on Thursday evening, Hillel will present a seminar titled “The Challenge of Managing the Environment Sustainably in a Changing World” on Wednesday, April 3, at 1:30 p.m. in Room 102 of the Delaware Biotechnology Institute. The seminar is open to the entire UD community.

DENIN is also sponsoring an informal breakfast question-and-answer session for students with Hillel on Friday, April 5, at 9 a.m. in the Collins Room of the Perkins Student Center. Both graduate and undergraduate students are welcome; bagels, pastries, fruit, juice and coffee will be provided.

About Daniel Hillel

In awarding Hillel its annual award in 2012, the World Food Prize Foundation said it was honoring him for “his role in conceiving and implementing a radically new mode of bringing water to crops in arid and dry land regions — known as ‘micro-irrigation.’

“Dr. Hillel’s pioneering scientific work in Israel revolutionized food production, first in the Middle East, and then in other regions around the world over the past five decades. His work laid the foundation for maximizing efficient water usage in agriculture, increasing crop yields, and minimizing environmental degradation.”

Hillel was born in the United States but was moved to Israel as a young child and raised on a kibbutz in a farming environment. He was educated at both American and Israeli universities as a soil scientist.

First drawn to the critical needs of the water supply in arid regions during his years of living in a small settlement in the highlands of the Negev Desert, the new approach Hillel developed and disseminated provided for a low-volume, high-frequency water supply directly to plant roots. This research led to a dramatic shift from the prevailing method of irrigation used in the first half of the 20th century: applying water in brief, periodic episodes of flooding to saturate the soil, followed by longer periods of manufactured drought to dry out the soil. 

Hillel proved that plants grown in continuously moist soil, achieved through micro-irrigation, produced higher yields than plants grown under the old flooding or sprinkler irrigation methods. Using less water in agriculture per unit of land not only conserves a scarce resource in arid and semi-arid regions, but also results in significantly “more crop per drop,” with the successful cultivation of field crops and fruit trees, even in coarse sands and gravel. 

Hillel’s development and promotion of better land and water management clearly demonstrated that farmers no longer needed to depend on the soil’s ability to store water, as was the case when using the previous method of high-volume, low-frequency irrigation. The technology he advanced, including drip, trickle and continuous-feed irrigation, has improved the quality of life and livelihoods throughout the Middle East and around the world.

By integrating complex scientific principles, designing practical applications and achieving wide outreach to farmers, communities, researchers and agricultural policy makers in more than 30 countries, Hillel has impacted the lives of millions.

He has written or edited 26 books on the roles of soil and water in healthy agro-ecosystems. His work includes historical scholarship on the roles of water, geology, geography and food production on the development of ancient civilizations of the Middle East and how environmental influences shaped the cultures and religious beliefs of people in the region.

Recently he has been working on ways to adjust agricultural techniques to adapt to increasing water stress resulting from climate change in order to meet the food and water requirements of a rapidly growing world population. He divides his time between the Center for Environmental Studies in Israel and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He is also a professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

This event is part of the “Challenges and Choices” series of events being hosted by DENIN in 2013 to focus attention on four major environmental challenges facing Delaware: sea level rise and extreme weather events, food and water security, land use and energy.

Article by Beth Chajes

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