Tour of citrus plantAgricultural entrepreneurs visiting from Armenia get a tour and explanation of operations from staff member (at right) of Kings River Citrus Packing Co. of Reedley during the group's educational tour in March. 

Strengthening Partnerships

Fresno State's Center for Agricultural Business hosts educational program for visiting Armenian agriculturalists

Fresno State’s Center for Agricultural Business (CAB) hosted a visiting delegation of agricultural entrepreneurs from Armenia last month as part of a federal program to improve agricultural practices in friendly nations and to enhance international trade.

The Armenian group’s 10-day visit was made possible through a Cochran Program grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service. Overseeing the visit for Fresno State was CAB Director Mechel Paggi and Bill Erysian, manager of grants and international projects for the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (JCAST).

The larger goal of the USDA program is to enhance business and economic partnerships between the United States and countries around the world. Fresno State and the City of Fresno have especially close ties to Armenia because of the large Armenian-American population base in Fresno County, Erysian said. Many in the Armenian community here are leading innovators in agricultural and post-harvest packing, processing and exporting operations, he noted.

“The goal of this program was to provide the Cochran Fellows with in-depth knowledge of advanced horticultural production and processing technologies and to help Armenia improve its horticulture industry, enhance it’s agricultural sustainability and promote food security,” Erysian said.

The visiting group consisted of six individuals who applied for the program and are considered to be leading entrepreneurs in their home regions, Paggi said. They included business owners, a cooperative president, a town mayor, and specialists from agricultural associations and organizations.

A key challenge for farmers in Armenia is to improve control of postharvest insects and decay in horticultural commodities, Erysian noted.

“We want to provide trainees with the latest methods to ensure quality products and help overcome quarantine barriers to allow increased export of Armenian crops to Russia, Eastern Europe and the United States,” he said.

The 10-day tour program was packed with activities, including visits to area agri-businesses that have partnered with Fresno State in research and business activities. At Wawona Frozen Foods in Clovis the delegation gained insights into frozen food technologies, with emphasis on frozen fruit. During a stop at Kings River Citrus Packing Co. of Reedley, participants learned about long-distance produce transportation and the use of modified atmospheres to enhance product shelf life – topics requested specifically by the visitors.

The group made several stops at Armenian-owned operations, including National Raisin Co. of Fowler, Fowler Packing Co. and Victor Packing Co. of Madera. They also visited headquarters of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League and the USDA’s Agricultural Research Station in Parlier. A two-day excursion to California’s central coast region featured lectures by Professor Hany Khalil of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Dr. Khalil discussed solar drying and shelf drying techniques, energy saving methods, cooling and storage methods appropriate for Armenia, among other topics.

Group at USDA
Armenia group enjoys a tour of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's research station in Parlier, just east of Fresno. On right in back row is Bill Erysian, manager of grants and international projects for Fresno State's Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, and tour guide. 

Central California provides an ideal backdrop for education for Armenian farm entrepreneurs because of the climate similarities shared by the two regions, Erysian said.

“Both Armenia and Central California grow similar crops such as table and raisin grapes, nuts, tree fruit,” Erysian said. “Our cultural and agricultural ties have made this a particularly effective location for engendering agricultural cooperation, training and educational exchange with Armenia over the past 20 years.”

CAB has hosted international training under several federal programs numerous times over the past decade, Paggi noted.

The Cochran Fellowship Program has produced new friendships as well as new business contacts between local agribusiness entities, some of which are Armenian owned, and the program participants from Armenia,” he said.

As part of the program requirement, each Cochran Fellow has developed his/her own specialized action plan for enhancing post harvest management that incorporates some of what they learned while here in the Central Valley. 

“Ultimately, the hope is that our growers, packers and shippers will develop new export markets in Armenia and Russia for California agricultural products,” he said.

For more information on CAB activities and research, contact Paggi at mpaggi@csufresno.edu, call the CAB office at 559-278-4405, or visit the CAB website at www.fresnostate.edu/jcast/cab.

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