Outlook bright for Colorado agriculture industry

Harry Talbott, chairman of the Talbott’s Mountain Gold farming operation in Palisade, pitches his locally grown peaches during a stop of the Choose Colorado Tour at a Grand Junction Safeway store. The annual tour promotes the Colorado agricultural industry and the products it produces. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)
Harry Talbott, chairman of the Talbott’s Mountain Gold farming operation in Palisade, pitches his locally grown peaches during a stop of the Choose Colorado Tour at a Grand Junction Safeway store. The annual tour promotes the Colorado agricultural industry and the products it produces. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Wendy White offers an optimistic outlook for the Colorado agricultural industry based on growing sales to very difference sources.

Even as exports of agricultural products from Colorado to far-flung markets increase, so does demand from consumers for locally grown and raised foods.

“I think it’s really positive,” said White, a marketing specialist with the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

White was among the officials participating in the Choose Colorado Tour, a statewide trip to raise awareness about the agricultural industry as well as the 15-year-old Colorado Proud program promoting the purchase of food and other ag products grown and raised in the state.

Grand Junction was among the stops on a tour scheduled to conclude Aug. 27 with a lunch at the History Colorado Center in Denver prepared with ingredients collected during the tour, including Grand Valley peaches.

White said the agricultural industry ranks among the top three contributors to the Colorado economy in generating more than $40 billion annually and providing more than 172,000 jobs.

White said Colorado ranks among the top states in the production of a number of agricultural products, including beef, millet and wheat. But the varied landscape and climate in Colorado allows for the production of a wide range of products, she added. “We pretty much do everything.”

The Colorado agricultural industry has fared well in part because of increased exports, the value of which topped $2 billion in 2013, she said.

At the same time, there’s been increased consumer demand for locally grown vegetables and fruits, White added.

Wendy White
Wendy White

That’s reflected in the results of a 2013 survey that found that 85 percent of Colorado consumers participating in the poll buy at least some food products. More than 90 percent said they would buy more if they were available and clearly labeled as such.

Since its inception in 1999, the Colorado Proud program has promoted food and other agricultural products produced in the state by labeling those products with the Colorado Proud logo.

The program has been successful by a several measures, White said.

The number of businesses participating in the program has grown from 65 to more than 2,000 and now includes farmers and ranchers as well as processors, retailers and restaurants, she said.

Moreover, the  2013 survey found that about 80 percent of Colorado consumers answering the poll questions were somewhat or very familiar with the Colorado Proud logo. And 66 percent said they would purchase even more Colorado produce if it’s labeled with the logo.

Harry Talbott, chairman of Talbott’s Mountain Gold farming operation in Palisade, attended the Choose Colorado Tour stop at Grand Junction Safeway. Talbott said his business has participated in the Colorado Proud proud program from the beginning.

The 500-acre operation includes 400 acres of peach orchards and 100 acres of winegrape vineyards. With an annual harvest of about 9 million pounds, Mountain Gold is the largest peach grower in Colorado, Talbott said.

The operation sells fresh peaches to grocery stores in Colorado and 11 other states in the West and Midwest. Since demand for Colorado peaches outstrips supply, business has been “outstanding,” Talbott said.

White said Colorado growers face ongoing challenges in weather conditions and drought. The availability of water in the future to continue irrigating crops poses another problem.

But the overall outlook, she said, is optimistic.