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Fresh produce industry continues to thrive in Colorado

by Lora Abcarian | July 11, 2011

The numbers tell the story. As a commodity group, fresh produce is the fifth largest agricultural sector in Colorado. “Produce represents 17 percent of total farm receipts for crops grown in Colorado,” said Tim Larsen, senior international marketing specialist with the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

The Centennial State enjoys national ranking for a number of its commodities. Colorado is the nation’s third-largest producer of head lettuce, Romaine lettuce and leaf lettuce; fourth largest for potatoes and spinach; fifth largest for cantaloupe; sixth largest for sweet corn; seventh largest for onions and peaches; eighth largest for pears and cabbage; ninth largest for dry edible beans; and 24th largest for apples.

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.

“Colorado’s agriculture and food industry contributes nearly $16 billion to the state’s economy annually,” said Mr. Larsen. Data for the 2009 crop-year showed that fresh produce generated $388.7 million. Fresh vegetable production accounted for $360.8 million, and fresh fruit accounted for $27.9 million.

According to Mr. Larsen, Colorado’s 1,928 fruit and vegetable farms represented over 50 percent of Colorado’s total specialty crops industry. “With farmgate sales of $388.7 million in 2009, Colorado’s produce industry represents 7 percent of Colorado’s total agricultural cash crop receipts and 17.4 percent of crop cash receipts,” he said.

The following fresh produce sales were reported for the 2009 crop year: potatoes $172.4 million, onions $38 million, sweet corn $14.9 million, cabbage $14 million, cantaloupe $12.8 million, other vegetables $84 million, peaches $18.3 million, apples $3.8 million, pears $1 million and other fruits $4.8 million.

The importance of Colorado’s agricultural industry should not be underestimated when it comes to jobs. According to Mr. Larsen, Colorado’s agriculture and food industry supports more than 100,000 jobs in Colorado, or 4 percent of all jobs in the state. A breakdown shows that 43,000 of these jobs are in production, 13,500 jobs are related to inputs-suppliers and 50,400 jobs are in processing-marketing.

“Many of Colorado’s counties are ag-dependent, he added. “In more than half of Colorado’s counties, one in every 10 jobs is tied to the ag and food industry. [And] one in every three jobs is tied to the ag and food industry in 13 of Colorado’s 64 counties. Approximately 30,000 [jobs] are in non-rural Colorado.”

Agricultural exports also create jobs in Colorado. Mr. Larsen said that 13,200 jobs are directly related to exports and include farm jobs, manufacturing, transportation and processing.