Olivia McClure, Picha, David H. | 4/2/2015 9:26:19 PM
News Release Distributed 04/02/15
BATON ROUGE, La. – Five Armenian farmers and food processors are visiting Louisiana this week (March 30-April 4) as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cochran Fellowship Program, which provides short-term training to agriculture professionals from middle-income countries.
The visitors have been touring Louisiana fruit and vegetable farms and attending workshops taught by LSU AgCenter faculty members on topics including pruning techniques, drip irrigation and cold-storage systems.
“The whole purpose is to expose the Armenian growers to applicable technologies that we use here for small family farms in Louisiana for the betterment of their livelihoods in rural Armenia,” said David Picha, director of AgCenter International Programs. “There are a lot of appropriate applicable technologies that made our small farmers strong that we would like to share with the growers to uplift their rural sector.”
The visiting Cochran fellows grow and process crops such as figs, persimmons and pomegranates. In Louisiana, they’ve seen strawberry farms – which are in full swing now – and are interested in starting berry production in Armenia, Picha said. That could help them diversify their income and make use of land they don’t currently use.
“Most of their income is received in two or three months, and they must do their planning in the first three months for the whole year,” said Smbat Grigoryan, the group’s translator. “Berry production can get them income in other months.”
Picha said shifting from low-value grain crops to specialty crops like berries could boost the Armenian economy.
“We’re focusing on high-value horticulture crops, which are more applicable to small-scale family farms,” Picha said. “You can make a lot of money on fruit and vegetable production and their value-added products – dried fruits, juices, jams – for local and regional markets.”
The Armenians said they plan to share the information they’re learning in the U.S. when they return home, where agriculture is very different, and farms are much smaller. They visited a several-hundred-acre farm in Louisiana, but the largest farm in their region of Armenia is about 25 acres, Grigoryan said. And many growers still use Soviet-era techniques and technologies.
“There are three stages of agriculture: agriculture, effective agriculture and high-value agriculture,” Grigoryan said. “We are still in stage one.”
Yields of Armenian crops could stand improvement, he said, and the group hopes what they’re learning about varieties, pruning and irrigation will help.
The Armenians will travel next to California to meet with farmers and tour their operations.