Colorado’s peach crops damaged by record-breaking cold

GRAND JUNCTION — Food suppliers in western Colorado said they are concerned about peach crops after a potentially devastating freeze struck Grand Valley orchards.

National Weather Service meteorologist Kris Sanders reported a record low 19 degrees Monday in Grand Junction, 2 degrees below the previous record set in 1933 by an Arctic cold front, The Daily Sentinel reported.

The extent of the problem may not be known for a few days, but freeze damage to buds is likely when the temperature drops below 28 degrees.

“Anything 28 and down, you’re getting beat up,” said Bruce Talbott, owner of Talbott Farms in Palisade. “I know we have an awful lot of damage. I would say there’s less than half-crop at this point.”

Other crops such as pears and cherries may also have been affected by the low temperatures, while apples and grapes may have been spared because they have not hit full bloom.

David Sterle, a research associate at Colorado State University’s Western Colorado Research Center Orchard Mesa farm site, said just about 100% of the peaches at the site were lost.

“We’re looking best-case scenario somebody might have 5% of their buds alive in peaches, and I’m sure they’d be very happy with that at the moment,” he said.

Some East Orchard Mesa and Palisade orchards may produce fruits only in the tops of trees where it’s warmer, Sterle said. But even with frost protection measures in place, temperatures in some orchards declined to about 23 degrees.

The peach industry in Colorado is worth about $40 million a year, stemming from produce in Mesa County, Sterle said.

Talbott said there may not be enough crop this year to market outside of local consumers, and workers brought in from Mexico under a federal temporary agricultural worker program may be sent back.

“We haven’t dealt with this in 20 years now and we’re going to have to think it out. I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Talbott said.

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