Farming changes driven by new technology and innovation
For The Greeley Tribune
The Evolution of Agriculture in Weld County
The Greeley Chamber of Commerce’s annual Ag Tour, themed “The Evolution of Agriculture in Weld County,” focused on how agriculture — specifically the evolution of crops, water use and dairies — has changed since the days of the Union Colonists and their agricultural utopia.
The tour stopped at Houston Gardens, 515 23rd Ave., in Greeley; Hungenberg Produce, 31466 Weld County Road 39 1/2, in Greeley; Brighton-based Petrocco Farms; White Plumb Farm, 955 39th Ave. in Greeley; Maxey Farms, 26331 Weld 49, in Greeley; and Monte Vista Dairy, 30984 Weld 61, in Gill.
The trucks that leave Hungenberg Produce in east Greeley, Colo., carry about 80,000 pounds of produce — mostly carrots — to be sold in supermarkets across the state. Those trucks leave the Hungenberg’s facility daily.
That’s a lot of produce, and it’s thanks to the large, loud machines in the Hungenberg Produce warehouse in Greeley. Mike Hungenberg and his family developed the machines to speed up the process of washing, sorting and bagging the produce. With the help of 50 to 70 workers, Hungenberg Produce can mass-produce baby, regular and jumbo carrots, among other crops such as onions and cabbage.
But carrots are the stars of the massive, more than 100,000-square-feet processing facility, which was built about 15 years ago. The way the workers at Hungenberg produce carrots these days is a lot different than what the family was doing when they first started farming in 1908. They can do more, faster.
Technology and innovation in agriculture have forced multiple changes in the ag industry, but farmers in Weld County have proven to evolve with the times. They have to do whatever is economically viable to survive, despite the weather, water, labor availability and production costs.
The Greeley Chamber of Commerce’s annual Ag Tour on Aug. 25 focused on the evolution in agriculture, where about 100 participants traveled to different crop and dairy farms around Greeley to learn about crops, water use and dairies in the area. Local farmers explained to participants how agriculturists have changed and adapted to modern times.
Greeley’s history proves those changes. Kim Barbour, public affairs director for the Greeley Chamber of Commerce, listed facts to the tour’s participants about Greeley’s agricultural history. She said the moneymaking crops in the region shifted from potatoes in Greeley’s early days, to sugar beets, to livestock and dairy.
A piece of that history was toured at Maxey Farms, where participants explored the inside of a 100-year-old, red barn. George Maxey, owner of the dairy farm, explained how cows were milked before recent technology was founded and utilized.
The Maxey Farm, formerly known as the C.W. Henry Farm, fit 24 dairy cows at a time into the milking barn and was a state-of-the-art building when it was built in 1917. Back then, the dairy cows were milked by hand and bottles of milk were transported by horse and carriage and sold door-to-door in Greeley, seven miles away. In 1972, Maxey said milking was increased to a herd of 48 cows, where about 850 gallons of milk were being produced daily. Maxey has since retired the farm, but still leases the herd to a neighboring dairy.
Contrasting what Maxey Farms was doing until 2010, Monte Vista Dairy, in Gill, Colo., was the last stop on the tour. The dairy farm has thousands of heifers to milk and up to 80 can be milked at one time.
These are just some of the changes farmers have faced over the decades to remain profitable.
Monte Vista produces about 34,000 gallons of milk, every day.
So what are the main problems and challenges farmers are currently facing? Dave Petrocco, owner of Brighton-based Petrocco Farms, said these days, in 2017, it’s a labor shortage.
There just simply aren’t enough local workers willing and able to do the work in the fields, he said. For example, about five years ago, Petrocco Farms had about 100 local applicants to work in the fields, and they pretty much hired every single worker that was qualified. This year, Petrocco said he had about four to five local applicants, and only one showed up to the interview.
That is mostly because folks want full-time work with a big hourly pay, Petrocco said, and they can find that in the oil and gas industry, which is making a comeback in Weld County. Farming field work is seasonal, and farmers simply can’t afford to pay their field workers a sizeable paycheck.
But Petrocco is remaining optimistic, despite the changes and obstacles present-day farmers are facing.
“We like to produce food,” he said. “We’ve fed a lot of people over the years. After a while, it becomes habit.” ❖