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:
In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a leader in the cultivation and production of dates, the estimated production was about 970KT (2005), an increase of around 45% over the previous twenty years. The estimated number of palms in the Kingdom is currently about 21 million trees comprising of 400 or so varieties spread over more than 100KHa in different areas across the Kingdom.
- Main Varieties:
There are a number of varieties of date palm being grown in the Kingdom.
- Marketing Information and Uses:
Dates are a very important fruit in Saudi Arabia not only as an economic agricultural crop but also due to the fact it is a major food source for the people and it is used by many processing industries to produce eg. date pastes, molasses, vinegar, animal feed etc. It also contributes significantly to agricultural exports and provides employment in the productive areas as well as in the sectors of processing, marketing and trade.
Fresh, dried, semi-dried, wet.
- Saudi Arabia is self-sufficient in dates and exports a significant quantity.
- 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. The trees can adapt from a very sandy to a heavy clay soil however it is better when soil has good balance between water retention and drainage. Sandy soils are common in most date palm plantations. Date palms can tolerate salinity levels up to 3000 ppm soluble salts but for ideal growing conditions no more than 1000 ppm should be present.
- Date palm trees can grow in arid and semi-arid regions characterized 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 tolerated by a date palm for several days if it is irrigated. During winter, temperature below 0 °C is also tolerated but below 7 °C the palms cannot grow. Growth reaches an optimum at about 32°C and will continue at a stable rate until temperature reaches 38 to /40 °C when it starts decreasing.
- Water Requirements:
- For Date Palms to be commercially productive, water should not be a constraint. In fact, abundant water is very important for the quality and quantity of the date crop. The roots of the trees should never be left to dry out. Most date trees are therefore grown under irrigation. In some areas, no additional irrigation is needed because the water table is close to the surface. In cases where not enough irrigation or rainfall is available, palms are likely to be irrigated once or twice a week. Usually, irrigation requirements are lower during winter, when irrigation may be once a month. Newly established plantations require more attention to their water needs in order to ensure successful establishment of the trees.
- Nutrition Requirements:
- Soil should be subjected to analysis for nutrient availability in order to develop an appropriate fertilization plan. In general, date palm trees respond favorably to application of fertilizer. Additional organic material should preferably be added to desert soils lacking humus. 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 picking