Lingering winter forces late start for some Colorado crops

08/02/2013 01:03:00 PM
Jim Offner

Courtesy Hungenberg ProduceA Greeley, Colo., carrot field belonging to Hungenberg Produce receives irrigation. According to the National Weather Service, Greeley is close to 3 inches behind normal precipitation for the past year, while areas in the southeastern part of the start have seen more significant drought.A late-departing winter and persistent drought conditions have challenged Colorado fruit and vegetable growers, and the deal will start to peak about a week to 10 days later than normal, they report.



“It’s tough, but the crops look good at this point,” said Bob Sakata, owner of Brighton-based vegetable grower-shipper Sakata Farms, which grows sweet corn, cabbage and onions.

Water restrictions have created a few worries about the onion crop, Sakata said.

“We took a chance (in planting them), but it’s nip and tuck right now,” he said. “Everything depends on how the (South Platte) river runs through August.”

In onions, LaSalle, Colo.-based Strohauer Farms has a number of specialty varieties that likely will be ready by Sept. 16, said Tanya Fell, director of sales and retail relations.

The cold spring slowed onion planting and likely will force a delay of about 10 days, said Alan Kinoshita, sales manager for Eaton, Colo.-based Fagerberg Produce Co. Inc.

The company estimated a start of Aug. 5, compared to a normal July 25.

“It was late getting started, with the cold, wind and snow into early May,” Kinoshita said.

Wet conditions delayed planting for onion and potato grower-shipper Martin Produce Co. in Greeley, Colo., said Chuck Bird, owner/manager.

“We’re probably a week to 10 days late, but the crops look great,” he said. “It was just a little late getting started.”

Overall, everything was shaping up well at Rocky Ford, Colo.-based Hanagan Farms, where Eric Hanagan grows peppers, tomatoes, squash, green beans and a number of other items, he said. Summer weather turned for the better and pushed the crops closer to normal, said Jordan Hungenberg, salesman and food safety manager for Greeley, Colo.-based Hungenberg Produce.

“Everything started out a little sluggish due to a little cold weather in March and April. However, the weather in May and June has been awesome,” he said.

“Carrots and cabbage have both caught up to speed very quickly with all the sunshine recently, so, overall, things look great.”


Tree fruit

Freezing temperatures carried into May in some areas, and that came with a price, said Mike Gibson, sales manager with Delta, Colo.-based United Marketing Exchange.

“We lost our cherry crop because of the freeze and we don’t have too many apricots at this time,” he said.

The last killing frost of winter came about 10 days later than normal, with cherries most vulnerable and peaches affected to a degree, Gibson said.

“We’re going to start a little later on our peach crop,” he said.

The peach deal was scheduled to run from the end of July into the second week of September, and then give way to bartlett pears, Gibson said.

“The deal is about week to 10 days behind,” he said.

Pears will ship until early October, and apples will run through Thanksgiving or Christmas, he said.

“This year, I don’t expect a real big apple crop. We had a heavy crop last year,” said Gibson, whose company offers jonathans, galas, red delicious, golden delicious, fujis and jonagolds.

The unexpected cold in April and May cut into the peach crop at Palisade, Colo.-based Talbott’s Mountain Gold LLLP, said Charlie Talbott, president.

“Peaches is our main thrust in the produce deal, and we had some rather brutal spring (weather) and some rather significant crop reduction,” he said.

The crop could be down by about a third this season, he said.

“Against that backdrop, our marketing plans are going to be more focused toward seeking to maintain as good a continuity as we possibly can, without really aggressively trying and suggesting we’d be able to support big promotions,” he said.

The apple crop is shaping up as “close to normal — maybe down a little,” said Jonathan Allen, founder and president of Firstfruits International Ltd. in Montrose, Colo., and the chairman of the Colorado Apple Administrative Committee in Delta.

“This year is alternate bearing, which probably bring it down some,” Allen said.

The state typically produces about 300,000 bushels of apples, which is only about one-tenth of its production about 20 or 30 years ago, Allen said.

“But the industry is still strong with good retail support,” he said.

“We’re not exporting or anything, but there’s plenty of supply.”



The state’s potato acreage is 49,700, compared to 55,000 in 2012, said Jim Ehrlich, executive director of the Monte Vista-based Colorado Potato Administrative Committee.

“I think it was just not planted for water reasons, and the market has been bad this year, and that probably played into it,” Ehrlich said.

The potato deal will get going after Labor Day, which would be “close to being on time,” Ehrlich said.

Potato acreage has remained stable from last year to this year at Strohauer Farms Inc. in LaSalle, Colo., and has increased for some specialty varieties, said Tanya Fell, director of sales and retail relations.

“Specialty fingerling potato acreage is up slightly as well as the organic acreages due to market demands,” she said.

Rainfall has been little more than spotty, but, in mid-July, there was some “monsoonal moisture” that helped, Fell said.

“The overall crop quality is very good,” she said, although she added that the cold spring pushed the crop back by about a week.



The late winter put cantaloupe growers in the Rocky Ford Growers Association up to two weeks behind schedule, said Hanagan, board member and grower.

“This winter was challenging,” he said, although some late-season snowpack in the mountains proved beneficial.

The cantaloupe deal began in late July, compared to a normal start of mid-July, Hanagan said.

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