Gov. Jared Polis announced Friday he is seeking federal aid for Western Slope farmers impacted by the April 14 freeze, which wiped out significant portions of area peach crops.

Polis and state Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg said in a news release that they were requesting a Secretarial Disaster Declaration from the U.S. Department of Agriculture related to the freeze. Bruce Talbott told the Sentinel last week that the freeze likely wiped out as much as 80% of normal production at Talbott Farms, a major local grower.

The declaration would open up assistance programs to Western Slope farmers. It would let growers tap loans with flexible repayment terms.

“Colorado’s iconic and delicious Palisade peaches could be devastated by this early freeze and fruit producers on the Western Slope need support. Coloradans always look forward to getting Palisade peaches that help support our economy, growers and small businesses,” Polis said in the release. “We urge the federal government to assist Colorado’s agriculture community during this challenging time.”

Growers in Mesa, Delta and other Western Slope counties grow fruits including peaches, pears, apples, apricots, cherries and grapes. Many of those fruits were hit hard by the recent freeze, although grapes generally were unscathed by it.

Peaches account for three-quarters of fruit production in the state, according to the news release from Polis, with the peach industry typically producing 17,000 tons of fruit and bringing in nearly $40 million.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, have written to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to urge quick approval of the request by Polis. They said the cumulative losses to fruit crops from the freeze are conservatively estimated at $50 million.

Dennis Clark of Clark Family Orchards, which grows peaches in Palisade, said he’s sure any relief assistance would be of help to some growers.

“I’m sure all growers would look into it if there’s something available,” he said.

He said the freeze damage at his business is fairly severe.

“We’re hoping to come out of it with a third of a crop. We do have peaches in areas and we’ll be harvesting some fruit sometime in July and be somewhat steady into early September.

“It’s not any bumper crop, but you’ll see fruit around the valley this season. It’s bad but some growers are hit much worse than others I’m sure.”

The freeze hit as growers already were concerned about what impacts this year’s pandemic would have on the industry when it came to markets and immigrant worker availability.

“I hope the locals stay supporting local and that we can get past this COVID-19, back to some normalcy where people will be out visiting the fruit stands and hopefully seeing a little bit of fruit in their local stores,” Clark said.

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