“When we started, it was still fairly unusual to grow strawberries indoors in Armenia. In fact, our 3 ha plastic greenhouse was only the second strawberry greenhouse in the country,” says Syuzanna Hovsepyan. Since then, lots more strawberry greenhouses have been set up– albeit mainly small-scale ones, she explains: “High-tech strawberry cultivation is attracting a lot of interest from investors because, as a high-value crop, it offers a shorter payback period of just three to four years. Today, Armenia has around 35 ha of controlled environment agriculture for strawberries.”
K&G Group accounts for 9 of those hectares nowadays, making it one of the country’s biggest indoor strawberry growers. Syuzanna oversees the operations to cultivate the company’s three chosen varieties – Murano, Favori and Sonsation – which are grown hydroponically on 3 ha each.
“Our success depends on quality,” states Syuzanna. “The local market is very small, so almost all of our strawberries are exported – mainly to Russia, but that poses some extra challenges right now of course, so we are also looking at markets in the Middle East. Our end customers are willing to pay a premium for extremely high-end products, and presentation is very important. That’s why we place the strawberries in a box by hand, one by one, to form a neat line.”
Syuzanna is a firm believer in lifelong learning. After graduating as a breeder, she did a master’s and then a PhD, followed by a second master’s in International Horticulture at Leibniz University Hannover, Germany. “Additionally, I followed training courses and gained work experience in the Netherlands, including at Wageningen University. I also spent some time working as a consultant with various small-scale companies in Armenia, including hydroponic strawberry greenhouses that were cultivating the everbearing Californian strawberry variety called Albion,” she continues.