Frostbitten: Late March snowfall, freezing temperatures hit Armenian farmers hard

Frostbitten: Late March snowfall, freezing temperatures hit Armenian farmers hard

Photolure

A powerful cyclone that penetrated Armenia and was accompanied with a sharp temperature drop, hail and heavy snow has caused huge damage to the country’s agricultural sector.

Apricot, cherry, peach, plum orchards in the Ararat valley and low-lying parts of the foothills in which trees had already been in blossom were affected by the onslaught of the cold front over the weekend.

Farmers have been working in an emergency mode lately, trying to save at least some of their future crops and seedlings, providing polyethylene coatings for them.

Earlier last week, the Ministry of Emergency Situation’s Hydro-Meteorological Service warned of an upcoming sharp drop in temperatures. For days the Ministry of Agriculture urged farmers to take appropriate measures to minimize possible damage. But traditional protective measures again proved useless against nature.

Eduard Vardanyan, a resident of the village of Jrashen, Ararat province, says his apricot orchard on an area of 1.5 hectares had been totally ruined. According to him, this orchard was the only hope of his family for the year.

“We took a loan pledging this orchard as security, now I don’t know what we are going to do. We sold apricots for a sum of 7 million drams (some $17,000) last year, we had big hopes for this year,” Edik’s 57-year-old wife Margarita complained.

Villagers say due to the warmer weather apricots began to blossom earlier this year, in the middle of March. Usually, this blossom begins in mid-April.

Meanwhile, farmers in the Ararat Valley have tried to artificially raise the temperature inside greenhouses throughout the night to save at least cucumber, tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings.

Zhora Hakobyan, a resident of the village of Khatunarkh, Armavir Province, says for two nights the entire village has kept the heaters on, providing double and triple covering to greenhouses.

“One kilogram of cellophane costs 1,300 drams [about $3], we had to buy 80 kilograms of cellophane for our greenhouse. Winds have ripped and torn to pieces much of the cellophanes people have bought. Villagers have no more money to buy additional stuff. Whatever they bought was already on credit. In greenhouses we have to keep the air temperature at +1 Celsius, if it is zero, the plant gets frostbitten. Each cellophane layer keeps the temperature up by a notch. Many have already provided three layers. Let’s see if we can save it,” says 70-year-old Hakobyan.

His 61-year-old wife Gyulnara Avetisyan says they can still dig out some of their seedlings and relocate them to warmer places, but those running large greenhouses will hardly manage to do all that work.

Many villagers feel broken and disappointed because of another blow of nature. They say they will have to repay their bank loans soon. They hope the government will help them deal with the situation, otherwise, they say, they are “lost”.

Last May, thousands of farmers in Armenia incurred heavy losses because of a heavy hailstorm destroying their apricot orchards. The government later provided certain aid to those who lost their yields.

The Ministry of Agriculture has not yet published information on the scale of the damage caused by the weekend weather event.

Gyulnara Avetisyan, meanwhile, says the latest snowfalls and freezing temperatures are the hardest in her memory.

“I don’t remember such heavy snow and a drop in temperatures by 10 degrees,” she says.

Some specialists do not exclude that what happened to the farmers over the weekend will also affect fruit and vegetable prices in the coming months.