Dates are famous for their high nutritional value and as such a very important part of the diet of many people around the world. The origin of the Date Palm has not been exactly specified so far. No truly wild plants have ever been discovered but evidence of its cultivation has been found in the Middle East city of Ur Iraq dating to 4000 BCE. Date Palms are distributed between the 10o and 39o in the Northern hemisphere however nowadays they can be found all over the world where the climate is suitable, from coastal areas up to elevations of 1500 m. It was estimated in 1996 that about 100 million date palm trees were growing in 30 countries, producing 2.5 to 4 million Tonnes of fruit. The Middle East and North Africa is central to the cultivation of dates with about 80% of the palm trees and dates production found there.
- Occurrence & Agricultural Importance in this Country:
- Cultivation Areas:
- Iraq’s extensive date palm plantations are located in the centre of the country, especially around Karbala, and southwards in the area surrounding Basra. Historically Iraq has been one of the world’s leading producers and exporters of dates apart from dates being a staple of the Iraqi diet. Iraq is thought to have some 411 varieties of dates. In 1970, in Iraq, an estimated 21 million palms, were cropped and at that time supplied almost half of world demand for dates.
- Main Varieties:
- There are more than 3000 varieties of the species world-wide. In Iraq, the main ones are Hillwi, Sayer, Khedrawi, Zahdi, Barahi, Khstawi, Ashrasi, Jabjab, Berben, Khassab, Medjool, Hallawi, Deryi. The average yield in Iraq is 4.3 T/Ha while the world average is about 5.2 T/Ha.
- Marketing Information and Uses:
Date production and trade remain important in Iraq today. During the 1970’s, Iraq’s dates production averaged slightly more than 415 thousand Tonnes annually of which 68% was exported at an average annual export value of nearly 35 million USD. But the date industry experienced severe damage during the past 25 turbulent years. In the early 1980s, Iraq’s dates had slumped to about 387 thousand Tonnes and the exports reduced to only about 28% of production. Today, production has reached an average of around 650T Tonnes per year.
- Industrially in Iraq, dates are processed into sugar, alcohol, vinegar and concentrated protein.
- Crop Management:
Cultivation conditions and methods:
- Soil Type:
- Date palms can grow and be productive in different types of soil in both hot arid and semi-arid regions. However it is better when soil has good balance between water retention and drainage. Sandy soils are common in most date palm plantations. They can tolerate salinity levels up to 3000 ppm soluble salts but preferably no more than 1000 ppm should be present.
- Date palm trees can grow in arid and semi-arid regions which are characterised by long and hot summers with almost no (very low) rainfall and very low relative humidity during the ripening period. Exceptionally high temperatures (over 50 °C) can be endured by a date palm for several days if it is irrigated. During winter, temperature below 0 °C is also tolerated. Dates cannot grow below 7 °C and above this level growth is active and reaches optimum at about 32°C. Above 38 to 40 °C growth starts decreasing again.
- Water Requirements:
- For Date Palms to be commercially productive, water should not be a constraint. A good water supply is very important for the quality and quantity of the date crop. The root zone of the trees should never be left out to dry. In Iraq most date trees are irrigated once or twice a week. In some areas, no additional irrigation is needed because ground water table level is close to the surface. Irrigation requirements are lower during winter, when water may be applied once a month. Newly established plantations require more attention to their water needs in order to secure successful establishment.
- Nutrition Requirements:
- Soil should be subjected to analysis for nutrient availability in order to develop an appropriate fertilization scheme. In general, date palm trees respond favourably to application of fertilizer. Additional organic material should preferably be added to sandy desert soils. Manure should be applied once a year or every other year. Synthetic or other commercial types of fertilizers have not been used extensively in date palm growing.
- Harvesting Period:
- Dates are usually harvested from late August until mid-November depending on variety, climate and desired ripening stage of the fruit.
- Harvesting Methods:
- Hand harvesting