Sep 10, 2020
Creative flair emerges in Colorado; government aid helps

Colorado Proud, a program of the Colorado Department of Agriculture that champions statewide agricultural products, hosted a Zoom roundtable in late July that focused on Western Slope agriculture recovery and the triple disruption – peach freeze, COVID-19 pandemic and the state drought – and how it has affected agriculture and local businesses in southwest Colorado.

Zoom panel moderator Wendy White, marketing specialist for Colorado Proud, asked the panelists to outline for young or inexperienced business owners and entrepreneurs ways to plow through the impediments.

“Be nimble,” Palisade peach grower Bruce Talbott said, advocating for communication to be present daily among businesses and its consumers. “Make decisions week by week. The game changes week by week. Be very willing to change the direction you’re going if the game changes.”

Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Kate Greenberg said relationships can be a guiding principle through the pandemic, and said there have already been discussions to keep the industry thriving post COVID-19.

“When I think about where we want to land on the other side of COVID, it’s with an incredibly thriving food and ag system,” she said, “… and an incredible sense of interconnections between consumers and producers and the businesses that connect them and serve them.”

In mid-summer, Western Slope fruit producers received some promising news from the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, after a multi-day freeze that occurred back in April. In response to the significant production losses that Colorado fruit growers face following this unanticipated drop in temperature, Perdue authorized a secretarial natural disaster designation for the area, allowing farmers to meet eligibility requirements for financial assistance through the Farm Service Agency.

Related: Colorado ag industry challenged by multiple woes››

Colorado Farm Bureau (CFB) worked with the Mesa and Delta County Farm Bureaus to gather information and to request a disaster designation from USDA. CFB also worked with lawmakers and the Colorado Department of Agriculture to advocate for federal relief.

Among other agricultural products, Western Slope producers grow apples, apricots, cherries, grapes, pears, and peaches, the latter accounting for upwards of 75% of the total fruit produced in the state. When peach trees are in the first bloom stage of their production cycle, temperatures at-or-below 21˚ F will result in an estimated kill rate of 90%. The freezing event in Mesa and Delta counties lasted five days and temperatures reached a low of 19˚F, a devastating blow to growers.

The late spring freeze damaged peach trees in the early petal fall stage when buds are exposed and vulnerable. Palisade growers report that there has not been an intense, prolonged freeze like this since 1999.

Each year, growers expect some level of freeze and frost-related loss – environmental setbacks occur when operating a high-risk business in the Western Slope. Unfortunately, typical solutions like warm air from wind machines and fans blowing in orchards did not increase temperatures enough to prevent major crop loss during this year’s freeze.

Gary Pullano, managing editor; Top photo: Participants in a Colorado Proud Zoom roundtable in July included, clockwise from top left, Wendy White, marketing specialist, Colorado Proud; Kate Greenberg, Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture; Josh Niernberg, executive chef and owner of restaurants in Grand Junction; Bruce Talbott, farm manager of Talbott Farm, Palisade, and Kelli Hepler, president, Colorado Agritourism Association. Photo: Zoom screenshot.

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