Colorado requests USDA disaster declaration after freeze puts Western Slope peach crop in jeopardy

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DENVER – Colorado has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to grant a disaster declaration for counties on the Western Slope affected by a hard freeze earlier this month that officials say could destroy 95% of this year’s peach crop.

If the request is granted by the USDA, farmers in Mesa, Delta, Montrose and Montezuma counties would gain access to financial assistance and other programs to try to recoup their losses from the freeze.

The freeze happened on April 13 and brought temperatures on the Western Slope down to 19 degrees. Gov. Jared Polis and Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Kate Greenberg wrote in their letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue Thursday that those temperatures potentially killed all but 5% of this year’s peach crop, which had already started to bloom.

The Colorado Sun detailed the hard freeze in a story earlier this week.

“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,” Gov. Polis said in a statement. “We urge the federal government to assist Colorado’s agriculture community during this challenging time.”

Peaches from the Western Slope account for more than 75% of the state’s fruit production – typically producing about 17,000 tons of fruit and bringing in about $40 million a year.

U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), along with Rep. Scott Tipton, the Republican who represents the area, wrote a letter in support of the request made by Polis and Greenberg of the USDA.

They wrote the freeze had been one of the worst in the area since 1999 and that before the freeze, peach growers “were expecting an all-time bumper crop” because there had been no damaging weather.

“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,” the lawmakers wrote.

Click here for more information on how the USDA secretarial disaster declaration process works.