MESA COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — As much as 95% of the peach crop on Colorado’s Western Slope was decimated by a late-season hard freeze, leading Gov. Jared Polis and state Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg to request a disaster declaration from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
According to the USDA request, after first bloom, 90% of a peach crop dies if the temperature drops to 21 degrees.
On April 14, Grand Junction recorded a low temperature of 19 degrees Fahrenheit — a record low for that date — according to the National Weather Service. The city recorded another record low on April 15, when temperatures bottomed out at 24 degrees.
The average low for those dates is 38 degrees.
According to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, peaches account for 75% of fruit production in the state. The Western Slope peach industry generates nearly $40 million annually.
“Colorado’s iconic and delicious Palisade peaches could be devastated by this early freeze and fruit producers on the Western Slope need support. Coloradans always look forward to getting Palisade peaches that help support our economy, growers and small businesses,” Polis said in a statement. “We urge the federal government to assist Colorado’s agriculture community during this challenging time.”
In their request to the USDA, Polis and Greenberg said, “A disaster declaration is necessary to access critical programs and assistance needed by our producers.”
Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet as well as Rep. Scott Tipton published a collective letter of support of the disaster declaration request.
“During an already disruptive time in our economy, additional stresses and disruptions in the food supply cannot be taken lightly. While Colorado farmers work to assess the true impact and damage from the freeze, initial reports show that at least half of the produce crop on the Western Slope of Colorado has been lost at the best, and total crop loss is a distinct possibility,” their letter states, in part.
Farmers say it likely means fewer peaches and higher prices in Front Range grocery stores this summer.
“It’ll kind of be a supply-and-demand situation,” says Dennis Clark. “And who wants it the most.”
“It will be a little more expensive,” says Bruce Talbott. “But more, it’s going to be availability, not price, that changes.”
Both farmers expect the bulk of this season’s small yield to remain in markets on the Western Slope.
“There will be a little fruit,” says Talbott. “But it’s not going to be what we’ve gotten used to in the last few years.”
Talbott says Polis’ disaster request will be necessary for some farms to survive.
“It’s probably not so different from being laid off for the year,” he says. “Your mortgage goes on, your cost of living goes on, there’s just no income for this year.”
“Any help would probably be welcomed by many people,” adds Clark.