Demand for Colorado-grown fruit continues to be high, thanks in large part to the continued popularity of the locally grown trend.
“It’s certainly increasing,” said Richard Kinser, manager of organic grower-shipper Rogers Mesa Fruit Co. Inc., Hotchkiss, Colo. “It’s been very brisk. This year every commodity has benefited.”
Charlie Talbott, president of Talbott Farms Inc., Palisade, Colo., said his company has increased its peach acreage five-fold in a little over a decade.
Much of that increase has come from phasing out less-profitable apple orchards and replacing them with peaches, Talbott said. This season marks the first year in which Talbott Farms won’t be shipping apples.
“It’s been a real gradual decision beginning in the late ‘90s,” Talbott said. “It’s purely economic. Peaches are profitable, and apples have been pretty disappointing.”
Counterbalancing the strong demand for Colorado fruit, however, is ever-higher input costs.
“Labor by itself is a killer, and the costs of cultural practices are more,” Kinser said. “The return to the grower is not that significant.”
Kinser said he has faith in the agriculture industry to balance the good years with the bad. In lean years, growers may have to charge a little bit more to make ends meet. Then, during years when there are bumper crops and input costs aren’t such a break, growers and shippers can pass along the savings to customers.
After record low temperatures in late April wiped out fruit in some blocks, Talbott Farms expects to ship about 75% of a full peach crop this season. But an additional 10% of peach acreage this year will help compensate for those losses.
Talbott said he expected peach prices to be just “modestly” higher than last year.
Talbott Farms could also make up for acreage lost with fruit size, Talbott said.
Excellent growing weather since the April freezes should yield great quality, and fruit could be one or two sizes bigger on average, he said.
The same cold snap in April took out about half of Talbott’s pear crop and totally wiped out its small apricot drop, Talbott said.
Kinser said that by the week of July 18, Rogers Mesa had wrapped up its cherry and apricot deals and was setting its sights on peaches, pears and apples.
Rogers Mesa’s cherry deal kicked off on July 1 and lasted for about a week, Kinser said. Apricots started about July 8 and also shipped for about a week.
Cherry acreage for the company is up in 2011, but weather early in the growing season took a toll on Rogers Mesa’s cherry and apricot crops, Kinser said.
“Frost and winter kill took out about 80% of the cherries, the ’cots probably more,” he said.
Peaches, the next crop off the tree for Rogers Mesa, were looking considerably better, Kinser said. Harvest was expected to start about Aug. 1 and continue through Sept. 1.
“We’re about a week behind because of the cold weather, but we have a fair crop,” he said.
The company’s peach acreage also is up some this year, though pear acreage is similar to last year, Kinser said.
As the season progresses, things just get better and better, Kinser said.
“We have an excellent pear crop,” he said, that should begin shipping in late August or early September and wind down after about two weeks.
The company’s apple deal, its longest of the season, is expected to begin around the same time as pears, Kinser said. Apples will likely ship through September or into early October.
Rogers Mesa will offer a full line of galas, jonagolds, braeburns, honeycrisp, jonathans, jonamacs, red delicious, golden delicious, romes, winesaps, fujis and other varieties this season.
Among those volumes gaining in volume, compared to previous years, are honeycrips, jonagolds and a new cultivar, the sun crisp, Kinser said.
Red delicious, golden delicious and braeburns are among the varieties of which Rogers Mesa is growing less.
The company’s growers have planted pink lady trees, but fruit will not be ready for this season, Kinser said.
For the most part, Rogers Mesa expects its fruit to stay in Colorado, though the company is equipped to handle out-of-state distribution as well.
“The lion’s share is consumed on the Front Range, but we’ll ship in any direction,” he said.