Western Slope fruit producers recently 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.

Colorado Farm Bureau worked quickly with the Mesa and Delta County Farm Bureaus to gather information and to request a disaster designation from Sec. Perdue. CFB also worked with Sen. Gardner, local 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 our state. When peach trees are in the first bloom stage of their production cycle, temperatures at-or-below 21 degrees Fahrenheit 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 degrees, a devastating blow to growers. 

In Colorado, the fruit production industry serves as a key economic driver, especially in the western region of the state. Specifically looking at peaches, the crop is responsible for contributing nearly $40 million annually to local rural communities. Typically, Colorado farmers harvest approximately 17,000 tons of peaches each year. With the damages caused by the recent inclement weather, however, it is projected that only 5% of this year’s peach crop might have survived these severe conditions.

In addition to the difficult times that many farmers and ranchers are currently confronted with in the midst of COVID-19, it is unfortunate that uncooperative weather presented yet another challenge to Colorado’s agriculture industry. In this instance, it is important to recognize and applaud the dedication of our public officials toward ensuring our state’s fruit producers are supported in this hour of need. 

You can access the correspondences between the USDA and the State of Colorado at Colorado’s Letter to the USDA and Secretary Perdue’s Disaster Declaration Letter

Additional information and resources are available at Colorado Department of Agriculture