Armenian Grape Output Sees Growth

grapesYEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenian farmers have grown 10 percent more grapes this fall and have already sold out of them despite the ongoing economic crisis, the Ministry of Agriculture said on Tuesday.

According to Deputy Agriculture Minister Samvel Galstian, grape production across Armenia totaled 205,000 metric tons, up from 185,000 tons registered last year.

The increase, which matches earlier ministry projections, is one of the reasons why agriculture shrunk much less drastically than just about every other sector of the Armenian economy in 2009. The country’s agricultural output declined by less than 1 percent and accounted for almost one fifth of Gross Domestic Product in the first ten months of the year. The economy as a whole contracted by as much as 17.5 percent, official statistics show.

The grape output rose despite an unusually cool and rainy summer which adversely affected a crop that requires a lot of sunshine and hot air. Galstian predicted in September that the grape harvest will be higher this year because of new vineyards that were planted in recent years and are now starting to bear fruit.

By comparison, the unfavorable weather conditions caused a 12 percent drop in domestic production of wheat and other cereals which the Ministry of Agriculture expects to total 361,500 tons in 2009. In Galstian’s words, this is the result of not only poorer yields but also the fact that “wheat fields have tended to shrink in the last five years.”

The official also said that Armenian winegrowers have already managed to sell their grapes to local wine distilleries and other wholesale buyers. “Not a single kilogram of grapes was left unsold,” he assured journalists.

Armenian alcohol companies bought an estimated two-thirds of the grapes grown last year. The global recession and its severe impact on Russia, the main market for Armenian alcoholic drinks, called into question their ability to keep up the 2008 supply volumes. Brandy production in Armenia has fallen significantly this year.

Visiting the wine-growing Ararat Valley south of Yerevan in late September, President Serzh Sarkisian urged the crisis-hit companies not to cut back on wholesale purchases of grape. He also said they should avoid lowering purchasing prices despite serious financial difficulties experienced by them.

Galstian said the prices have nonetheless fallen from an average of 141 drams (36 U.S. cents) per kilogram of grapes in late 2008 to 115 drams this fall. Grape farmers have long accused winemakers of setting disproportionately low prices and making big profits at their expense.


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