STRASBURG, Colo. — The Colorado Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association (CFVGA) Tuesday welcomed Sen. Cory Gardner to tour Hungenberg Produce, Greeley, followed by a discussion with northern Colorado growers on the challenges facing their operations.
While the tour emphasized Hungenberg Produce’s highly efficient carrot processing facilities and the measures taken to ensure food safety to the consuming public, the conversation following the tour quickly turned to financial viability, agricultural labor, trade and water.
Sen. Gardner asked if growers used crop insurance and seemed a bit surprised that none did.
“There is nothing available for most specialty crops, except for the new whole farm policies,” said Jason Hungenberg. “We checked into it, but it couldn’t cover the entire operation.”
When the conversation turned to agricultural labor, participants thanked the senator for his support of agriculture in immigration reform and expressed hope that the revised H2A rules will help. However, the consensus was that more needs to be done on guess worker programs to ensure long-term viability of Colorado produce farms.
“Our labor costs shot up $50,000 due to the increase in the H2A adverse effect wage rate, and that is only as of now,” said Sara Bevan, Kiowa Valley Organics, Roggen. “We employ 16 H2A workers on 70 acres of organic produce.”
The Colorado adverse effect wage rate, which is the wage rate mandated by the federal government , rose from $10.69 in 2018 to $13.13 in 2019.
“When we first started, we were able to find local people willing to do this work, but over time all got jobs in the oil and gas industry or other places,” said Bevan. “I’m happy for them, but it gave us no option but to pay an H2A company to do the paperwork, so that we can get people to work with us in our fields.”
Sen. Gardner said he supports moving H2A oversight from the U.S. Department of Labor to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He also referenced the April 9 congressional passage of the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act and other proposed legislation to improve water storage infrastructure throughout Colorado.
“We are fighting aggressively for water storage facility construction and improvements,” said Gardner. “We also will push for passage of a bill that will let mutual ditch companies retain their non-profit status even when they have external sources of income, as long as they put that income back into the ditch company.”
Sen. Gardner also took the opportunity to present CFVGA President Robert Sakata with a commendation for Sakata Farms, Brighton, receiving the 2019 Trailblazer Award. The award was a series of Who’s Who in Agriculture awards presented May 17 by the Colorado Farm Bureau and the Denver Business Journal.
The CFVGA is comprised of more than 250 members, including growers of all sizes and types of production throughout the state, as well as representatives of allied industries. The Colorado fruit and vegetable growing sector contributes nearly $485 million to Colorado at the farm gate and is multiplied as it goes through the distribution chain. Over 90,000 Colorado acres are in fruit and vegetable production.
— Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association
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