Northern Colorado produce growers had a chance to talk about the impact of Covid-19 on their operations with U.S. Sen. Cory Gardener last Saturday afternoon. The visit was hosted by Colorado Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association (CFVGA) President Robert Sakata at a farm in Fort Lupton owned by Sakata Farms.
“Colorado deserves a senator who understands the needs of Colorado farmers and can effectively represent them in Washington,” said Gardner. “I appreciated the opportunity to be in Fort Lupton Saturday to hear directly from them about how we can continue to work together to support farmers across the Eastern Plains and all of Colorado.”
“We had a very productive conversation with Sen. Gardner, who wanted to hear about how things are going on our farms and the challenges we are facing, especially as we operate in this Covid-19 pandemic,” said Sakata. “Growers have made make big changes in their operations to protect their workers from Covid-19 and have also seen big market disruptions.”
Gardner told the farmers he will continue to monitor U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) relief programs by regularly meeting with USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue.
“We appreciate that some of the grants food banks have received are encouraging the recipient organizations to buy from local farmers,” said Derrick Hoffman, Hoffman Family Farms, Greeley. “We are seeing a benefit from that.”
The ability of farmers to hire qualified workers has been challenging and is being made even more difficult with the Covid-19 pandemic. Farmers are incurring additional costs for housing to be able to socially distance workers and to provide quarantine housing as well as to daily provide workers with personal protective equipment.
“We urge lawmakers to consider these additional, unreimbursed costs incurred by growers when they approve the calculation for the adverse effect wage rate for H2A workers,” said Dave Petrocco, Petrocco Farms, Brighton.
On hand to answer the senator’s questions about onion production in Colorado was Antoinette Machado, a graduate student involved with Colorado State University’s multi-state “Stop the Rot,” a research project funded approximately 50 percent by the Specialty Crop Research Initiative with the other half of funding by universities and growers themselves.
“Onion researchers across the country are collaborating to look at everything from the genome of different bacterial diseases to cultivation practices that may play a roll in bacterial onion decay,” said Machado.
Others in attendance were Dave Maynard, What Chefs Want; Colby Cantrell, Fagerberg Produce; Ralph Villano, Villano Brothers Farm; Rene Hardwick, National Onion Association; and Julie Kerr, Sakata Farms.
The CFVGA has approximately 250 members, including produce operations of all sizes and types of production throughout the state, as well as representatives of allied industries. The Colorado fruit and vegetable growing sector contributes nearly $485 million to Colorado at the farm gate and is multiplied as it goes through the distribution chain. Over 90,000 Colorado acres are in fruit and vegetable production.