Effort to save Palisade farms bearing fruit

Donovan Talbott, left, and Roblee Talbott inspect peach blossoms on a tree on Roblee Talbott’s C&R Farms Orchard. The 26-acre orchard and four other orchards in the East Orchard Mesa area were recently protected through the Mesa Land Trust.

Many of the peach and wine-grape orchards you see today in the Palisade area will be around for your grandkids and great-grandkids to enjoy.

Thanks in part to the work of the Mesa Land Trust, five new parcels totaling 92 acres recently were added to those conservation efforts, labeled the Fruitlands Forever Initiative.

Officials from the Land Trust, fruit growers and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., gathered Tuesday morning on the 26-acre C&R Farms to celebrate the newly conserved parcels.

“We want to be able to pass this working farm onto our children and grandkids and make sure they have land to continue farming,” Roblee Talbott said under the pink peach blossoms of his farm.

The Fruitlands Forever Initiative, launched in 2010 by the Mesa Land Trust, aims to place 500 acres, for a total of 1,000 acres, into conservation easements, meaning the land can never be developed. Land covered under conservation easements can be used for its current agricultural uses. The Mesa Land Trust, in coordination with a number of funding agencies, has helped place 700 acres of orchards in the Palisade area in conservation.

“Now what you’re finding is that it’s our farmers and ranchers that are leading conservation around the state,” Bennet said at the farm.

In exchange for giving up development rights, landowners are paid, and the money can be used to invest back into the farm, said Ilana Moir, land-protection specialist with the Mesa Land Trust.

“It’s something that seems to really work for the landowners,” she said. “They get some equity to buy some more property or some machinery, and the funders get to preserve some beautiful land. Everyone else gets to enjoy the peaches.”

Colorado produces 22 million pounds of peaches, and 90 percent is produced in the Grand Valley. Of the approximately 1,000 acres in the state dedicated to growing grapes, 700 acres are in Mesa County.

Conservation easements allow larger farms to remain intact, which may be important for production. Predictions show Mesa County is expected to feel the strain of about 250,000 residents in the next decade, and that may cause pressure to develop agricultural land for housing developments.

“That’s a lot of potential people to be here,” Moir said. “If farms are broken up to five-acre pieces, that makes it difficult to do a cohesive farm.”


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