Acreage plummets, but Rocky Ford growers optimistic
Cantaloupe acreage in Colorado’s Rocky Ford region could be down 75 percent this year, according to The Packer, a national weekly newspaper of the fruit and vegetable industry.
This, of course, is following on last year's listeria outbreak linked to Granada, Colo.-based Jensen Farms, which claimed the lives of 32 people and sickened at least 146 people in 28 states.
But still, the publication says, the Rocky Ford industry is optimistic and "poised for a rebound." Leaders point to the creation of a new growers association, and its unanimous decision to hand over third-party audit responsibilities to the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
The department sponsored a media tour today (April 19) in Rocky Ford, with a field tour and presentations by growers and state officials. From The Packer's story:
Growers are working with the state agriculture department and Colorado State University, which has already conducted four educational sessions with growers on traceability, safe handling and other issues. More sessions are planned more in the future, said Mike Bartolo, specialist at the university’s Arkansas Valley Research Center in Rocky Ford.
“In 21 years, I’ve never seen this kind of input from growers,” Bartolo said. “We’ve been amazed by the amount of energy growers have put into learning as much as they possibly can.”
Colorado State University also is ramping up its efforts to communicate directly with consumers about safe handling of cantaloupes through retail point-of-sale, web-based and other materials, Bartolo said.
The centerpiece of the changes are government-based audits. Growers will submit to at least two audits each season, said Tracy Vanderpool, who heads the department’s fruit and vegetable inspection office.
The first audit will be announced at the beginning of the growing season, Vanderpool said, and the other will be unannounced.
“We have 100% buy-in with growers, so I’m excited about it,” he said.
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