Shenik — ATG Project Spurs Growth in New District

Shenik -- ATG Project Spurs Growth in New District

August 20, 2004

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by Andranik Michaelian

Shenik, Province of Armavir, Armenia — Here in this rocky, hilly area near the border with Turkey, wheat farmer Yura Petrosyan stands next to his freshly irrigated plot of land and talks about his ancestors. “My grandparents are from Moush, in Western Armenia,” he says. “They came to Eastern Armenia in 1915, went back the next year, then came here to stay in 1919. They settled in the Talin region, where many people from Moush and nearby Sassoun live. They lived there until 1975, when a new district was created here, including Shenik, Karashen (in Armenian, built from rock), and nearby Bagaran.”

Soviet collapse hurts wheat farmers

In Shenik, Yura Petrosyan, an agronomist, worked on a collective farm and grew wheat, the main crop in the new region of Baghramyan. Through hard work and a love for their new home, Petrosyan and the farmers of Shenik turned the rocky terrain into productive farmland. Then, at the end of 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, sending shockwaves throughout agriculture in Armenia, including Shenik and its surrounding villages. “Our supplies of fertilizer, herbicide, and wheat seed were cut off,” Petrosyan sys. “The situation in Shenik was desperate.”

In 1992 the newly formed Armenian Technology Group (ATG), based in Fresno, California, began experimenting with new varieties of wheat in fields all across Armenia. In 1994, thanks to ATG efforts, nearly 5,000 metrics tons of wheat seed were supplied to Armenian farmers. What began as a humanitarian effort later turned into what became called the Wheat Seed Project, in which participating farmers were supplied with seed and then repaid ATG after harvest.

Farmers collaborates with ATG

In 1996, after meeting with atg regional aronomists Aram Baghdasaryan and Hakop Ayvazyan, Petrosyan began experimenting with several of the varieties new to the area, planting ‘Eltan’, ‘Weston’ and ’W301’. The first harvest yielded an excellent five metric tons per hectare, triple that of the previous year. “the new varieties looked very good,” Petrosyan says. “But Shenik farmers were shocked to hear that we had plantred only 90 kilograms of seed per hectare, compared to the usual 300-320 kilograms.”

The next year, Petrosyan began participating as a project farmer in the Seed Multiplication Program during its first year. “I was happy with the seed ATG provided. We knew we could trust ATG to supply us with good quality seed.”

Petrosyan continued planting the new varieties introduced by ATG and the Russian variety ‘Bezostaya’, also provided by the organization. He notes that although ‘Bezostaya’ grows well in the clay-like soil of Shenik, the new American varieties have become the preferred choice of him and the other Shenik farmers. “This year,” Petrosyan says, “I harvested 6.5 metric tons per hectare of ‘Stevens’, and 7 metric tons of ‘Eltan’.”

In spite of an excellent harvest in 2003, Petrosyan had hoped for even better yields. “It looked like the harvest of ‘Eltan’ would be a record nine metric tons per hectare,” he says. “But the old combines we are forced to use cost us nearly two metric tons per hectare.” These combines, left over from Soviet days, are inefficient and hard to clean. “New combines would help Baghramyan area farmers tremendously. They would help farmers all over Armenia.”

Farming in the Baghramyan area

The dry, rocky conditions in Baghramyan demand a high expertise in the farming of wheat. Timing is of the utmost importance. Says Petrosyan, “We need to irrigate our fields four or five times. A late irrigation can mean parched soil, harming the roots of the wheat plant.” Petrosyan irrigates his fields twice in the fall, and again in the spring, after the snow melts. “Here, we find that applying fertilizer at this time results in higher yields.”

A particular farmer, Petrosyan worked with ATG in 1998 and 1999 in the experimentation of new varieties of barley. But, according to Petrosyan, the new varieties of barley didn’t prove successful. “Yet, we had yields of nearly four metric tons per hectare, a good yield in Baghramyan.”

In the town of Baghramyan, the regional center of the district, Vartkes Melkonyan works in the land privatization office and has farmed wheat for ATG for three consecutive years. This year, Melkonyan grew ‘Weston’ and ‘Stevens’. “Both are great varieties for Baghramyan fields,” he says. In a five-hectare plot close to Baghramyan, Melkonyan clears rocks from the field each autumn after the plowing is completed. “It is like the land of Sassoun, where my ancestors lived. I love watching wheat grow. Farming in is my blood.”

Melkoyan would like to see ATG start projects in animal husbandry and grape production. “This would add variety in Baghramyan agriculture, and give us different sources of income,” he observes. “But, I am completely happy with ATG. They are helping farmers come out of a difficult situation. They insure that farmers have good seed.”

After past harvests, Melkonyan has sold seed to mills in the Armavir region. Now he sells to Baghramysn farmers, who are especially impressed with ‘Stevens’. He says the ATG collaboration is a great help to area farmers and villagers.

Historic roots maintained

Near Shenik, which is named after a village in Sassoun, Yura Petrosyan grows wheat on a five-hectare plot near the border with Turkey. “The road is bad,” he says. “It is difficult to get there. But as I cultivate my wheat, I am nearer to my ancestors’ home.”

In the large courtyard of his home, Petrosyan is drying wheat to make bulghur, a favorite pilaf of Armenians. “It is made from ‘Weston’, gathered from my field near the border,” he says with pride. “Here. Take some with you.”

Petrosyan now farms wheat and a local variety of watermelons in partnership with his son. “Five years ago, my son wanted to go to Russia. But thanks to ATG, we are solid now. My son is here. Life is good.”

For more information about how you can help Armenia’s farmers, contact the ATG office at (559) 224-1000 or by e-mail ( Tax-deductible donations can be sent to ATG; 1300 E. Shaw, Suite 149; P.O.Box 5969; Fresno, CA 93755-5969.
You may also donate to ATG online.