Vosketap — Seed Project Strengthens Border Region

Vosketap -- Seed Project Strengthens Border Region

July 17, 2004

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by Andranik Michaelian

Vosketap, Province of Ararat, Armenia — In Armenia, as summer passes and the vast expanses of wheat turn a golden yellow, Armenians affectionately refer to the wheat as “fields of gold,” showing the high esteem they hold for their beloved crop. In the fields of Vosketap (meaning “flowing with gold”), Sergey Minasyan grows wheat for the Armenian Technology Group (ATG), a Fresno, California-based organization which provides new, improved varieties of wheat and other grains to farmers throughout Armenia.

In the early 1990s, wheat farmers in Armenia faced difficult times resulting from the collapse of the Soviet Union and ensuing shortages of herbicide, fertilizer, and good first generation wheat seed. “Our situation was desperate,” Minasyan said. “Without fresh supplies of seed, harvests were at an all-time low, and disease was rampant. We didn’t have wheat for the mills. There was no bread in Armenia.”

Recognizing the extent of the crisis in Armenia’s wheat fields, agronomists and professionals from ATG initiated several programs across Armenia. The organization began experimenting with new varieties of wheat and barley suitable to Armenia’s varied climates. In 1994, collaborating with the U.S. Agency for International Development, ATG distributed nearly 3,000 metric tons of wheat seed to farmers throughout Armenia, in an extensive humanitarian effort which later became known as the Wheat Seed Project. “These programs literally saved the country from famine,” Minasyan stated. “I can’t say enough about what ATG did for us during those dark years.”

Project reaches Ararat border villages

In the Ararat Valley, including the fields surrounding Vosketap, Avshar, and Khor Virab, several of the new varieties offered by ATG proved adaptable to the arid conditions of the region. Stevens, a variety particularly resistant to wheat diseases, became the preferred variety of area growers. “In 1998, just before harvest, I went to Khor Virab to see Virab Manukyan’s field of Stevens,” Minasyan said. “I hadn’t seen wheat look that good in years.”

The two men made an appointment to meet Roger Culver, who was the director of ATG’s Yerevan office. “Mr. Culver made arrangements to provide me with seed to plant four hectares of Stevens,” Minasyan said. To ensure proper seeding rates on the new field, ATG brought a land leveler to Vosketap before planting. “They did everything they could to make sure my first year was a success,” he stressed.

Minasyan’s first season as a program farmer for ATG was a resounding success. From harvests that had fallen to below four metric tons per hectare, Minasyan harvested an average of 7.5 metric tons. “One hectare yielded 8.5 metric tons,” Minasyan said. “Everyone in Vosketap was amazed.” After repaying ATG, Minasyan sold the remaining seed to Vosketap wheat farmers. “The seed was so good, it lasted nearly five years, before it finally got mixed with other varieties. It was unbelievable.”

In 2003, Minasyan planted Steptoya barley, the seed obtained from ATG. “The harvest should be about 7.5 metric tons per hectare, which is excellent for Ararat,” he said. With income earned from working with ATG, Minasyan dug a well that pumps 40 liters of water per minute, needed in the dry climate around Vosketap. “Before digging the well, the water supply here was inconsistent,” Minasyan stated. “I had 21 hectares that lay fallow. The benefits of the well are tremendous.”

Farming successes lead to new collaboration

Minasyan, a mechanical engineer by profession, believes in keeping up to date on modern farming techniques. He attends agricultural seminars and meetings whenever he can. “During the winter, I read literature about the latest practices in wheat farming,” he said. “I find out what new technology is offered, and what equipment is needed to make my operations more efficient.” Every four years, Minasyan conducts a soil analysis to check for any lack in soil nutrients. “If necessary, we apply super phosphate or Azodagan,” he said. “In this way, the wheat plant stays healthy, and is resistant to disease.”

In Vosketap, Minasyan is known for his progressive farming methods and good wheat and barley yields. Noting these successes, officials from the Seed Producers Association (SPA), a government-certified organization founded in 1998, have chosen Minasyan to produce wheat seed for the Ararat region.

In the program, ATG provides registered Elite seed to SPA, whose growers in turn produce high quality first generation seed and guarantee farmers throughout Armenia access to this seed. According to long-time ATG agronomist Gagik Mkrtchyan, only the best farmers are chosen to participate as SPA farmers. “Maintaining high quality seed production is vital for the program to be successful,” he said. “Growers like Sergey Minasyan, who have a long history of producing high quality wheat seed, help ensure the success of SPA.”

Minasyan places much importance on proper seedbed preparation and the rotation of crops in obtaining good, high quality seed. This season, tomatoes, corn, and potatoes are planted on his land located near the Araks River, along the border with Turkey. “These crops help replenish the soil, in preparation for planting wheat or barley,” he said. “With proper cultivation, the fields should be clean, and free of weeds, for this autumn’s sowing of wheat.”

A wooden hut on the border

In 1915, the Minasyan family was uprooted from its ancestral home of Van, a city now located in the eastern provinces of Turkey, not far across the border from Vosketap. “My grandparents and others in the family came here by way of Der Zor, Jordan, and the Red Sea, finally reaching Batumi, Georgia, after a five-year journey.” he said. “From there, they came to Vosketap, one of the villages closest to Mt. Ararat and the border with Turkey, where they could feel close to their native Van.”

Minasyan, who lives and works in Yerevan, built a small wooden hut in the middle of his wheat fields near Vosketap. “Every summer, I come to Vosketap and stay in my hut until harvest,” he said. “At night, I sleep on the roof, and wake up to the vast fields of wheat, corn, and tomatoes, and a clear view of Mt. Ararat.”

In recent years, across the border in Turkey, new towns and villages have been constructed, from the Araks River to the slopes of Mt. Ararat. “Our wheat fields stretch all the way to the border,” Minasyan explained. “My job is to stay here, plant wheat, to strengthen our side of the border. With the help of our friends at ATG, we are able to do this.

“Here, I want to plant fruit trees around the border of my wheat field,” he said. “This will protect against the strong winds of the area, and will give visitors a place to sit, relax, and enjoy the fruit from the trees.”

For more information about how you can help Armenia’s farmers, contact the ATG office at (559) 224-1000 or by e-mail (info@atgusa.org). 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.