Farmers to Udall: Help conserve orchards

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall received an education Monday on the value of the fruit industry and agritourism to the Grand Valley, as local farmers and land conservationists encouraged the Colorado Democrat to do his part to ensure that federal funding continues to flow to programs that protect farms and orchards.

Udall spent about a half-hour visiting on East Orchard Mesa with representatives from Talbott Farms, C and R Farms, the Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology and Mesa Land Trust, and Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca.

Farmers used much of that time playing up the valley’s importance in peach and wine production and pitching the benefits of conservation easements to ensure that fruit production continues for generations to come.

Udall learned about the Land Trust’s Fruitlands Forever initiative, which seeks to conserve more than 600 acres of fruit-growing land within the next five years. Land Trust Executive Director Rob Bleiberg told the senator that fruit growers, winemakers and others in the industry believe 1,000 acres of land is needed to keep fruit flowing into packing sheds and farmers markets.

Bleiberg also told Udall he’s concerned that the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, a volunteer federal program that provides matching funds to buy conservation easements on farms and ranches, could be left behind as legislators begin debating the 2012 Farm Bill.

“Our hope, as you go back to Washington to deal with some of the financial challenges, is that conservation programs in general don’t take a disproportionate hit,” Bleiberg said.

Standing next to a kiosk at the Tilman Bishop State Wildlife Area, Udall suggested he would work to protect funding for conservation easements.

“We’ve got to cut spending, but we’ve got to be smart about it,” he said. “This is something worth preserving.”


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