Northern Colorado vegetable crop has decent year despite weather, insect issues
Weld County vegetable farmers are harvesting a quality crop in 2010 despite a multitude of weather and insect problems that have plagued them for most of the growing season.
As of 2004, Colorado was ranked third nationally in the production of carrots, all grown in Weld; it was fifth in the nation in production of onions for storage, with the majority of that acreage in the northern part of the state led by Weld; and it was in the top 10 in the country in cabbage, cantaloupe, sweet corn and lettuce, many produced by Weld operations.
In the last available report by the Colorado office of the National Agriculture Statistics Service, Weld had close to 20,000 acres in vegetable production. Those acres are no longer tracked because of disclosure requirements of individual operations, but that acreage has continued to increase. It was slowed, however, by water concerns in the early 2000s, and some of those concerns remain as several hundred irrigation wells across the northern part of the state continue to be limited in the amount of water they can pump or have been shut down by the state.
Strohauer Farms is a third-generation family operation based in La Salle and is the county’s largest potato producer. It offers russets, reds and Yukon golds, as well as several varieties of gourmet fingerling potatoes, from its processing facility at 201 N. 1st St. in La Salle. Strohauer also grows potatoes for Martin Produce of Greeley that are then sorted and shipped from the Greeley produce shed and sold by Canon Potato of Center, in southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, where the majority of the state’s potatoes are grown. Martin and Canon have had an agreement to operate together for a number of years.
Strohauer Farms, which includes about 3,000 acres of corn, wheat and potatoes, avoided this year’s violent hail and wind storms, said Harry Strohauer, but he said his potatoes got hit hard by the potato pysllid, an insect that came in on the winds from Texas.
“This is the worst I’ve ever seen them. They came up on south winds, and we’ve had a lot of south winds this year,” Strohauer said. Some fields and varieties were hit harder than others, he said, adding “it didn’t matter what we sprayed them with, nothing seemed to work really well.”
The problem was similar to a rust problem many of the county’s wheat farmers struggled with earlier in the year. That disease also moved into the region on southern winds. Strohauer said people with gardens had the same problem this year, as the pysllid also attacked tomato and pepper plants.
Bob Sakata of Sakata Farms and Mike Hungenberg of Hungenberg Produce said things are finally moving along smoothly. Sakata, famous for sweet corn, also produces a number of other vegetables.
“It’s been a tough year,” Sakata said. Some of his farms were hit hard by hail in early June. That was early enough to replant, but that added to input costs.
“Everything right now is depressed, except onions. I’ve always thought you would be rewarded for growing food, but that hasn’t always been the case,” he said.
Despite the problems, “we have a beautiful crop,” Sakata said.
Weld farmers grow two types of onions. One is for the fresh market and comes into the county as transplants. The second is the larger of the crop, which is grown from seed, harvested, sorted at produce sheds and then can be stored while marketed throughout the fall and winter. The fresh market harvest is pretty well wrapped up and the storage crop harvest is just getting started.
Hungenberg is the state’s only carrot producer and has been harvesting that crop, along with cabbage, for the past few weeks.
“Cabbage started out terrible, but now the quality looks really good and the carrot harvest has smoothed. The quality there is pretty good, too,” Hungenberg said. The harvest of carrots could continue well into November, or until the first solid freeze of the season brings it to a halt.
Hungenberg also planted 45 acres of onion sets this year and has found a niche market for those, mainly along the eastern seaboard, particularly into the Carolinas. That market got flooded a few years ago, driving many away from the crop. Hungenberg decided to stay with it and has seen that market increase in the past couple of years.
Strohauer and most of the county’s farmers dealt with a wet spring and, as a result, fought soil compaction problems once crops were planted and started to emerge.
“It’s been a little bit challenging this year,” he said. “Now it’s a mixed bag. Some fields were really hit by the pysllids, but overall, the fingerlings are really looking good. That demand has increased and we planted a few more again this year. And the organics we have are also holding up, despite the problems.”