By Nane Atshemian
Armenia will register this year a sharp increase in its crop of fruit, which accounts for a large part of its agricultural output, due to unusually favorable weather conditions, the Agriculture Ministry said on Wednesday.
Garnik Petrosian, head of the ministry’s fruit-growing department, told RFE/RL that farmers across the country are expected to collect nearly 400,000 metric tons of grapes, apples and other fruit, or almost 54 percent more than last year.
“We are now expecting a very big harvest,” he said. “We will even have trouble selling fruit.” Petrosian added that the yield of apricots, estimated to total 80,000 tons this year, will be responsible for most of the anticipated gain.
The apricot harvest in 2004, as reported by the Agriculture Ministry, stood at a modest 6,000 tons due to a brief but devastating spring cold snap. That explains why apricots were very expensive and in short supply in Armenia last year. Their rapidly growing supply, which will peak at the beginning of July, is already pushing the prices down dramatically.
The price of one kilogram of apricots, most of them grown in the fertile Ararat Valley south of Yerevan, slumped from 1,000 drams ($2.2) to below 500 drams in the past week alone. It could be as low as 100 drams in a few weeks time.
“This year’s harvest is really good,” said a woman selling fruit at one of Yerevan’s agricultural markets. “The prices are already going down.”
“We are going to have plenty of fruits this year, especially apricots,” agreed another trader.
But not all buyers shared the traders’ enthusiasm. “The prices are still high for low-income people,” complained one elderly man. “True, they are down but not as much as we pensioners would like.”
“I didn’t even ask fruit prices today because I can’t afford them,” he added.
According to Petrosian, the expected bumper harvest is also good news for Armenia’s wine industry as the aggregate output of grapes is on course to reach 180,000 tons, up from 148,000 tons reported last year. “The Agriculture Ministry’s key concern now is to have that crop fully purchased by both food processing plants and exporters,” he said.
Petrosian added that the government also expects a sizable increase in the yields of key vegetables such as potatoes and tomatoes.
Earlier this year the Agriculture Ministry predicted further growth of Armenia’s wheat output which should meet more than two thirds of the country’s bread demand in 2005. Ministry officials said they expect a slight increase from last year’s wheat harvest which was the largest in a decade.