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Land initiative Seeks To Protect Palisade Farmers

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A peach orchard in the Palisade area (credit: mesalandtrust.org)

A peach orchard in the Palisade area (credit: mesalandtrust.org)

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) – Bruce Talbott is a fifth-generation Palisade fruit grower, his surname synonymous with the Grand Valley’s renowned fruit industry.

He’d like for his children to be the sixth generation to carry on with the business.

It’s why the Talbott family agreed to place a conservation easement on an iconic 37-acre orchard and vineyard on a bluff above the Colorado River.

The vineyard is one of four tracts of land totaling 115 acres now protected from development as part of a new Mesa Land Trust program to save prime farmland.

The initiative, Fruitlands Forever, seeks to conserve an additional 500 acres of fruit-growing land within the next five years, an effort expected to cost $10 million or more.

To put that number of acres in perspective, there are 2,200 acres of prime farmland still in fruit production in Mesa County, a fraction of the 15,000 acres once in production. A little more than 700 of those are in the east end of the valley and have been conserved by the Land Trust.

“We think one of the signature landscapes in Mesa County and, indeed, the state of Colorado is the fruit-growing area in Palisade,” said Mesa Land Trust Executive Director Rob Bleiberg. “We want to make sure our grandkids know what we’re talking about when we talk about the spring bloom in the Grand Valley.”

In creating the initiative, he said Mesa Land Trust spoke with fruit growers, winemakers and others in the industry to determine how large a land base was necessary to keep fruit flowing into packing sheds. Officials arrived at a figure of 1,000 acres.

Should Fruitlands Forever reach its 500-acre goal, the 1,000 preserved-acre mark will be topped.

In addition to the Talbotts, three other families agreed to put conservation easements on their properties. In doing so, the families sold their development rights but retained ownership and can continue to live on and farm the land or sell the property. The land can never be subdivided or developed, however.

“What we hope to get out of the conservancy is stabilization of the land base,” said Talbott, whose father, Harry, was one of the founders of Mesa Land Trust in 1980. “If you’ve got lots of ground under an easement, it becomes difficult for anyone in the county to sell land in patchwork for development.”

The land trust raised $2 million to pay for the acquisitions. Great Outdoors Colorado provided $953,000, while the Natural Resources Conservation Services awarded $837,000. The four landowners donated a total of $300,000 of property value, and the Gates Family and Goodwin foundations chipped in $80,000.

Bleiberg said the acquisition of the vineyards and orchards has given a shot of confidence to other farmers and growers in the future viability of the fruit-growing industry and makes them more comfortable in investing in their farms.

“They know there won’t be a gradual erosion of farmland in the valley that will undermine the industry,” he said.

Bleiberg said the Land Trust applied to GOCO for $484,000 in grants to conserve another four farms.

- By Mike Wiggins, The Daily Sentinel

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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