You would think that nothing could be better than growing dates, since you don’t need anything out of the ordinary. It seems like it should be a very safe activity, especially when you do not use pesticides to grow your medjool dates, but things are not always what they seem. There are all kinds of hidden perils. The fruit that is not good enough for consumption is disposed into the ground and fruit left on the date palm, likewise makes its way to the ground. The fruit on the ground in turn brings field mice which in turn bring in field mice predators. The primary predator for the field mouse is probably the local rattle snake and to a lesser extent owls and hawks. The peril being the rattle snake. If you are not careful you can step on a rattlesnake and get bitten by a rattlesnake when working on the date palms or harvesting. Not too many people get bitten by rattle snakes, but it is definitely rattlesnake country. When working on the tractor to clear the weeds you run the risk of getting caught on the date palm fronds. On occasion you may fall grab from a date frond and tear your hand. The fronds have thorns and dangerous so you get cuts and scratches, year round when you work on the date palms. Medjool dates in particular are labor intensive and therefore require constant vigilance when working on the date palms.
Today dates continue to be a staple food of the desert in the Middle East. The UAE has increased production significantly by subsidizing the various things that go into the production of dates and date palms; by making low cost financing available; by requiring all farmers to plant more dates, in fact there are requirements that all farmers must have 200 date and to sell the product to specific markets; and also by encouraging policies that help market and price dates on the basis of varieties and grades.
Dates are graded according to the amount of moisture and sweetness. Dry dates ten to have moisture in the range of about 8-10%. Semidry dates have moisture content in the 11-16% range and soft dates have moisture content of 17-22%. Most of the dates in the UAE are of the soft type of dates. About 26 varieties are commercial varieties, but many more are grown in the UAE.
The date industry continues to be an important part of the economies of most Middle Eastern countries. Dates are also an integral part of culture and custom in the Middle East. The UAE has the highest per capita consumption of dates in the world. The date fruit can be stored for more than 2 years. Making it an important food in a world where our population is growing extremely fast. In the UAE the harvesting season starts in the summer and could go to about October. Farmers typically pick dates on a daily basis and sell them at wholesale markets. This contrasts with the harvest season in the Coachella Valley where the date festival is held in winter after the harvest which takes place in early fall. Many of the farmers growing dates also feed dates to their livestock. The date fruit bed to the livestock is at the tamar stage. This is in addition to other food fed to the live stock.
The period of highest demand for date fruit is the same worldwide it is during the month of Ramada, during the Eid Al-Fitr and at the end of the month of Al-Adha.
School starts again today for the kids. In the desert it is still summer and if you went to one of these old local schools you remember how miserable it was. It was hot and there as no AC or very poor AC systems. The response from the teachers was that others had it worse before us. A lot of new nice schools were built during the building boom so fortunately a lot of kids will be going to nice schools. I remember going to school past the date palm groves and I remember the date palms on campus and most of all I remember the damn mosquitoes. There were a lot of mosquitoes and in fact there is a special government entity that is responsible for mosquito control. Judging by the looks of the date palms, the schools were very old, the date palms were still producing dates, but they were very tall. The date palms were probably around 50-70 years old. The school was probably the same age. I resented the date palms, because the date palm is not as broad as a nice shade trees, so there was not a whole lot of shade.
A lot of people dream about starting their own farm, very few dream about starting a medjool date farm or any other date farm for that matter. Starting a date farm is no small feat and it is really something that should not be undertaken by someone that is too old. Too old for the purpose of starting a medjool date farm is really anything over 50. A date farm will not start producing fruit for about 5 years after planting 3 year old shoots. If you are 50, you may be 55 or older by the time of the first harvest. The tree will not mature until it is about 10 years old that would make 60 if you start at 50. A medjool date farm is really a business to leave for your children and grand children, except that is very hard work and you have enjoy living in the desert, where it is 90 degrees in the middle of the night ! The first step is to buy a land in the desert with water. Then you prepare the soil level the land and prepare a drip irrigation system. Then you big your holes and prep them. Then you get your shoots and plant them. The success rate for shoots is about 70%, if you buy them in planters it is closer to 100%. After you plant them you have to water them and get the drip irrigation system going immediately and even flood the field. Then you put in a lot of time and effort and invest a lot for the next 5 years. Then you are ready for your first harvest, probably about 100 pounds for every 5 acres, you will find that it is not enough to pay your bills for one month. Then 10 years later you will finally have a decent harvest and decide that it was not worth it, except that if you have plenty of land you will find that you have now planted four times more acreage than you started. Another 10 years and you have a viable business, or in the alternate you may just buy an existing farm and cut the wait time out to a few months.