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Rocky Ford cantaloupes making a comeback, but drought's drying up other crops

While last week's snow and this week's predicted rains have made forecasts of drought seem all wet in metro Denver, the threat is still very real to farmers in southern and eastern Colorado. Last week, they planted more than 550 acres of Rocky Ford cantaloupe -- almost a 40 percent increase over last year, when the industry was suffering from both a lack of moisture and a lingering image problem after the listeria outbreak of late 2011.

And while the public has new confidence in cantaloupe -- largely thanks to initiatives adopted by the Rocky Ford Growers Association -- there's still a significant water shortage.

"The crop won't be back to normal, but they're doing as much as they can with the amount of water this year," says Diane Mulligan, spokeswoman for the RFGA, who was down to observe the planting last week. And some crops, such as corn, wheat and soybeans, won't get planted at all this year, because they take more water than cantaloupes.

While she was there, Mulligan spotted an irrigation canal that's about eight feet tall and should be filled at this time of year -- but it's completely dry. "The farmers are hoping rain this week will help," she says, "but the farmers are saying they'll need a full year to catch up."

And cantaloupe aren't the only crops that have been affected by the weather. As Juliet Wittman reported after a recent visit to the Boulder Farmers' Market, there will be few apricots coming from the Western Slope this year, and cherries will be problematic, too.

According to John Ellis, who runs the Rancho Durazno peach orchard, the strange spring weather on the Western Slope -- deep late snows, cool nights and one profound frost -- wreaked havoc on the blossoms.

From the "Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Colorado cantaloupes get a $175,000 makeover after listeria hysteria."


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