Amragits -- The Legend of Lalvar Mountain:
ATG Wheat Farmer Keeps Area Traditions Alive
September 6, 2004
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Amragits, Province of Lori, Armenia — In the northern region of Stepanavan, the mountains Lalvar and Todari loom above the villages of Amragits, Gyulakarag, and Gargar. Each mountain has its legends and tales, preserved by villagers and elders in song and by word of mouth. The hunters of Lalvar were renowned for their bravery, honesty, and respect for nature. They never took more than was needed, thereby maintaining a balance between man and his natural surroundings. In Amragits, Araik Zalinyan, who has been farming wheat and barley for the Armenian Technology Group since 1994, works in the tradition of his ancestors, caring for the land in the same spirit as the legendary hunters of Lalvar.
In 1994, Armenian agriculture was staggering from the effects of the 1988 earthquake, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the resulting shortages of good first-generation wheat seed. It was then that the California-based Armenian Technology Group (ATG) undertook an extensive humanitarian project in which over 3,000 metric tons of seed were distributed to farmers throughout the country. Winter wheat was sown on nearly 17,000 hectares of land, including the Stepanavan region. ATG agronomists and agricultural specialists conducted seminars in Armenia to teach the latest wheat-growing techniques. In Amragits (means “next to a fortress”), Araik Zalinyan planted wheat and barley, as part of ATG’s project in the province of Lori.
The following year, along with other farmers in Amragits and neighboring villages, Zalinyan began planting the new improved varieties of wheat offered by ATG. “Before ATG began working in Amragits, we had no fresh seed,” he said. “Our situation was desperate.” In 1996, Zalinyan became an ATG program farmer, planting seed provided by ATG and then repaying the organization after harvest. “We planted Blizzard, W301, and Weston,” he said. “Our 1997 harvest was quite successful, with yields double of what had become typical in Amragits.”
As part of what later became known as the Wheat Seed Project, ATG professionals visited participating farmers during the growing season, giving advice about new methods in seedbed preparation and the proper application of fertilizer and herbicide. “ATG agronomists Gagik Mkrtchyan and Hakop Ayvazyan came here often,” Zalinyan said. “Their advice, which I always followed, was excellent. They gave information particular to the growing of each variety ATG offered.” ATG also provided Zalinyan with a land leveler, manufactured in Kyavar, near Lake Sevan. “I use the leveler before each planting.” Zalinyan stated. “This is important for insuring proper seeding rates. The leveler has been a tremendous benefit to me and to other ATG program farmers in Amragits.”
New successes in Amragits receive notice
Beginning in 1998, on a 10-hectare plot of land overlooking the Dzoraget River canyon in Amragits, Zalinyan has grown Stevens and Eltan, varieties provided by ATG. “The first two years, an overabundance of rain resulted in low yields,” he said. “But the quality of seed was so high, I continued planting both varieties.” In 2000, the harvest reached a record high for the area, nearly seven metric tons per hectare. “This was unbelievable for rain-fed fields,” Zalinyan declared.
That year, severe drought in most of Armenia resulted in a shortage of wheat seed, leading ATG to purchase seed from Zalinyan and distribute it to farmers nationwide. Two years later, as summer passed and Zalinyan’s field of Stevens took on a rich, golden brown just before harvest, a contingent of visitors from Yerevan came to Amragits to view the wheat. “That summer, the wheat looked unusually good,” Zalinyan said proudly. “The U.S. ambassador came, and several officials from the Ministry of Agriculture.” Standing near the edge of the river canyon, Zalinyan pointed out the ancient fortress and bathhouse on the opposite side that faces his field of wheat. “The ambassador was quite impressed with the whole scene,” he recalled. “And, that year the harvest was an excellent six metric tons per hectare.”
Hard work, honesty build solid relationships
Moving his SM4 cleaning machine into the open area in front of his warehouse, Zalinyan talked about the recent harvest. “This wheat seed is Pioneer, a variety provided by ATG. It is planted in the spring. Unfortunately, a midnight hailstorm on June 22 ruined most of the crop.” Along with a woman and two men, Zalinyan started the cleaning machine and directed it towards several piles of seed. By means of several screens and shakers, the machine separated the cracked seeds and shells from the good seeds, which would then be treated and used for future plantings.
Zalinyan stood back as workers continued the cleaning process. “About 30 men and women work in my wheat and potato fields,” he said. “Most of them have been working with me for at least 10 years. They are like family to me.”
As a dedicated farmer and businessman, Zalinyan has built lasting relationships with many others, including area farmers Stepan Kirakosyan and Gagik Margaryan, with whom Zalinyan farms in partnership. “We each have our own duties and responsibilities,” he said. “Right now, Kirakosyan is in Stepanavan, helping repair a tractor, which we need to cultivate our fields for a fall planting of wheat.”
According to Gagik Mkrtchyan, who often travels from ATG’s Yerevan office (ATGF) to visit Zalinyan and other farmers in Amragits and neighboring villages, there isn’t a more ideal farmer or man around. “Araik is a very honest, upright man,” he stated. “We have never had a problem in our relationships. His farming methods are technically correct, and he always produces high quality seed.”
Zalinyan remembers when Roger Culver, director of ATGF from 1995 to 2000, came to his storage shed during the seed cleaning process. “After finding a mouse in the shed, he tried to tell me about the mouse, but was unable, since he couldn’t speak Armenian,” Zalinyan said. “He drew a picture of a mouse eating a wheat seed. I still have the picture.”
A matter of honor
Standing on a hill overlooking Amragits with Lalvar and Todari in the distance, Zalinyan talked about the upcoming fall sowing of wheat. “This autumn, I will plant Mereleben, a mix of German and Russian varieties, provided by ATG. The land is almost ready. We need to sow the seed before October 20, before the temperatures fall too low.”
“I derive great joy from growing wheat,” he continued. “When I enter a wheat field, I relax, and imagine the bread that results from my work. When a day or two passes and I am away from my wheat fields, I become very restless. Working the land is my life.”
In keeping with local tradition, Zalinyan takes his work very seriously, assuming personal responsibility for the success of his harvest. “I treat the land well, with respect,” he said. “When someone looks at one of my fields and sees a good, clean crop, it is a matter of honor.”
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