ATG Seed Multiplication Program enters new phase
|February 20, 2004
Yerevan, Armenia — In the mid-1990s, as the Armenian Technology Group’s Wheat Seed Project was taking root in fields throughout Armenia and Karabagh, ATG professionals and local farmers were experimenting with new, improved Western varieties of wheat, barley, and alfalfa in an effort to assist Armenian’s grain farmers following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The success of this project is incontestable; ATG has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USAID, and others for their work in the introduction, testing, and multiplication of Western wheat varieties in Armenia.
ATG initiates bold program
To ensure a stable base of Elite wheat seed in Armenia and lessen the country’s dependence on imported breeder seed, ATG has undertaken a project that stands to benefit Armenian agriculture for years to come. In ATG’s Seed Multiplication Program (SMP), Elite seed is used to create first generation seed, which ATG provides to participating farmers. According to the Armenian Technology Group Foundation (ATGF) Yerevan-director Gevorg Gabrielyan, creating a base of Elite and Super Elite wheat seed will strengthen the program and, ultimately, bring about the economic independence of Armenia’s wheat industry.
“By producing its own breeder seed, ATGF will be able to guarantee the highest quality of each variety of wheat,” Gabrielyan emphasized. “In this way, Armenian farmers can grow wheat that meets the standards necessary for the production of both seed and wheat for bread, which will help solidify the agricultural economy of Armenia.” Until now, ATGF has used imported breeder seed to produce Super Elite and Elite wheat seed. Under the new program, the emphasis is on producing breeder seed in Armenia, while also developing a cycle of seed production — from breeder seed to Super Elite, to Elite, and, finally, to first generation seed, which will be distributed to the growers. This will provide wheat farmers a steady supply of high quality wheat seed, almost unheard of since the fall of the Soviet Union.
The first step of the new program is already in place. ATG has purchased 55 hectares of land near Armavir and planted it for seed production. On this land, 3.5 hectares are planted in several varieties of wheat, for the production of breeder seed. Agronomist Hakop Aivazyan, who oversees work in ATGF fields in Armavir, made sure the fields were properly prepared before planting. “We started by removing rocks, then applied fertilizer, and leveled and burned the field,” Aivazyan said. “After another application of fertilizer, we sowed the seeds, and followed with an irrigation. Each step is very important in seed production.”
Each variety gathered for breeder seed was carefully chosen from the healthiest stalks to maintain varietal purity. Agronomist Mkhitar Grigoryan, who manages ATGF’s production of Super Elite seed, explained that the center of the stalk holds the true characteristics of the variety. “The middle 60% of the stalk is ideal for gathering seed to produce breeder seed,” he said. “In the beginning, about 10,000 wheat heads are gathered. The work is all done by hand.”
Regulatory plan to boost SMP, wheat industry
Using the new program of seed production as a basis, ATG has developed a plan that will unify the efforts of ATGF, grain growers, flourmills, and the Seed Producers Association (SPA), a government-certified organization founded in 1998. Under the plan, ATGF will provide registered Elite seed to SPA, which in turn will produce high quality first generation seed and guarantee participating SMP farmers access to this seed. Each stage of production will be certified by the Ministry of Agriculture, further ensuring the integrity of the process.
Armen Asatryan, who holds a doctorate in agricultural economics, is the project manager, coordinating the efforts of SPA with individual wheat growers. “ATGF agronomists will work with SPA farmers to make sure the seed produced is of the highest quality,” Asatryan said. “The best farmers will be selected, especially those able to devote larger plots of land for seed production. This will increase efficiency and cost-effectiveness, helping assure the success of the program.”
SMP benefits remote regions, villages
Fulfilling its goal of strengthening the economy of villages and remote border regions, the Armenian Technology Group is committed to the production of high quality wheat seed and making it available to grain growers all over Armenia. With an annual production goal of 300 metric tons of Elite seed, ATGF will be able to provide 4,000-5,000 metric tons of first generation seed to farmers, enough to plant 25,000-30,000 hectares, or about 25% of all fields in Armenia.
“Many of these fields have lain fallow,” in-country director Gevorg Gabrielyan stressed. “And, in many cases, farmers haven’t had access to good seed. The benefits to Armenia’s farmers and villagers are enormous.” The final goal is to have the maximum amount of high quality first generation seed available to farmers. “This will help farmers have the best product and the highest yield,” Gabrielyan said. As the production of good, clean seed increases, the benefits will reach Armenia’s flourmills and, eventually, the Armenian consumer.
Until now, due to the lack of uniform, high-quality wheat grown in Armenia, the mills have had to depend largely on imported wheat. As the grain growers reach their goal of doubling production, ATGF will coordinate their efforts with the mills, which prefer purchasing in large amounts, resulting in higher profits for mills and growers alike. The growing cooperation of everyone involved will further ATG’s goal of improving the rural economy of Armenia.
ATG promotes trust, partnerships
By placing high value on cooperation and the exchange of ideas and information, ATG and its subsidiary in Yerevan, the ATG Foundation, have helped in promoting new, progressive initiatives in the agricultural community of Armenia. Currently, ATG is collaborating with the Armenian Ministry of Agriculture to help establish the permanence of the Seed Multiplication Program, proposing an agency to oversee each stage of seed production to make sure all standards and guidelines for the production of high quality seed are met.
In Artik, in the province of Shirak, ATGF agronomists are working with farmers to develop a machine that would greatly reduce the time-consuming task of hand-cutting the wheat stalk when gathering seed for the production of breeder seed — an important first step in strengthening the process of SMP.
Working with farmers and agricultural experts, ATG has helped bolster the grain industry in Armenia, most notably by establishing the well-known Wheat Seed Project. In strengthening SMP and promoting lasting relationships between the grain growers and farming agencies, ATG is continuing to strive for the betterment of the economy in rural Armenia, giving farmers and their families hope for the future.
For more information about how you can help Armenia’s farmers, contact the ATG office at (559) 224-1000 or by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org). Tax-deductible donations can be sent to ATG; 1300 E. Shaw, Suite 149; P.O.Box 5969; Fresno, CA 93755-5969.