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Colorado has a story to tell and product to sell when it comes to fresh produce.

Tim Larsen, senior international marketing specialist with the Colorado Department of Agriculture, said that the story is both old and impressive. "If you look at historical markers around Camp Hale, that was a spinach- producing area early on," he told The Produce News.

Today, Colorado is the nation's fourth-largest spinach producer. Rocky Ford, CO, has gained a national reputation for its quality cantaloupe. First plantings of the melon occurred 120 years ago, and the state is the fifth-largest producer in the nation.

Data released by the Colorado Department of Agriculture support this favorable picture. During 2008, the state's produce industry was valued at $466 million. Produce was ranked fifth during that year among Colorado's top 10 agricultural commodities based upon cash receipts.

The Centennial State is the nation's third-largest producer of head lettuce, leaf lettuce and Romaine. "A lot of this lettuce is grown under contract for people in California," he stated.

Potato production ranked fourth nationally in 2008, and Colorado was the nation's sixth-largest producer of sweet corn. Both carrots and onions ranked seventh, followed by cabbage in eighth place. Dry edible beans ranked ninth nationally. Colorado was the nation's seventh-largest peach producer, eighth-largest pear producer and the No. 24 apple producer.

In addition to commodities with national ranking, Colorado grows a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. On the fruit side, apricots, cherries, plums, Pluots, raspberries, strawberries and watermelon are available. As for vegetables, producers move asparagus, beets, bell peppers, cauliflower, celery, chili peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, herbs, pumpkins, rhubarb, squash and tomatoes into the pipeline.

"Sometimes you need to look not at what you grow, but who you sell it to," Mr. Larsen added. "Sale synergies are very important."

He illustrated this by saying that the state's potatoes and onions -- Colorado's No. 1 and No. 2 produce crops, respectively -- complement each other. Producers are able to participate in the Colorado Proud program, which brands product as locally grown.

"Colorado Proud shows you can promote something on a broader scale that benefits everyone," Mr. Larsen commented.

Selling Colorado's story can be expensive, but the right venue can make all the difference. This will mark the third year that the Colorado Pavilion will showcase Colorado products at the Produce Marketing Association's Fresh Summit this October in Orlando, FL.

"It's a growing focus of ours. We will have four commodity groups," Mr. Larsen stated. Six individual companies, which include growers of fresh produce, will also participate.