By Shawn Chitnis

LONGMONT, Colo. (CBS4)– The weather this year created challenge after challenge for farmers as the seasons changed, affecting the crop in their orchards and making it more difficult to protect their trees. Damage from the spring returned in the summer and now the hot and dry fall is leaving them to keep working during a drought.

(credit: CBS)

“If you have fruit trees, you really need to keep them watered, they will not survive this type of weather, even into the winter time, you really have to keep them moist,” said Sharon Perdue, the owner of Ya Ya Farm and Orchard. “That’s typical in Colorado, that’s nothing different but it feels a little more powerful this year.”

Perdue took over the property in 2003. There was an old section of an orchard on the farm that dates back to 1936 but it was mostly a hay field. She rehabilitated the land and started taking apples to the Longmont Farmers Market. Everyone was excited to see her produce and told her it reminded them of “U-Pick” farms across the country. So she expanded the orchard to create the same experience; the property now has 1,000 trees.

“I love being on the farm, it’s so fun and the orchard is awesome, I think it’s that love that keeps me working here,” she told CBS4 on Thursday. “I’ve come to appreciate it through other people and what they grew up with, and it just really kind of warms your heart and makes what you do every day feel really rewarding.”

As a Colorado native, she learned about how her customers made picking fruit an annual event in other states and watched them come back each year at her orchard. But she had to notify them this year there would be no “U-Pick” option when a spring snow storm and cold temperatures in April took out 99% of her crop.

“It’s sad for people because it’s their tradition, and it’s sad for us because we have to tell them no,” she said. “I think there is a lot of good that has come out of this, we just have to get through it.”

(credit: CBS)

The beginning of 2020 looked strong to Perdue but after the blossoms in April, she saw one problem after another start to setback the orchard. Not just the weather but also the pandemic cancelling school visits and hay rides on the farm. Broken branches and split trees were her next challenge in the summer with an early snowstorm in September. Fall has continued the work started in the summer with it so hot and dry, she needs to keep the trees watered using the city’s supply because irrigation ditches are closed.

“When people come and they tell me stories and they tell me how much they appreciate what I do, and what’s going on here and what it means to their families,” Perdue said. “That makes any bad day a good day and it keeps you working harder than you would ever work.”

She noticed the pandemic pushed people to be outside and enjoy simple activities like visiting the farm, it gave them time to enjoy their family and reflect on what they had during such a difficult time for the country. While almost all of her “U-Pick” business is gone, she always has a leftover crop that supplies her store and other orchards help by providing her with fresh fruit from this year.

“They’re enjoying their families and the little things are really special to them and that really touches your heart to see that,” she said.

The loss of crop this year to the weather actually happens once every three springs, according to Perdue. But usually one part of the state has a healthy crop if the other does not. In 2020, not only did farmers like her lose apples along the Front Range but peach crops also did not survive this year in Palisade on the Western Slope.

“I’m cautiously optimistic about 2021,” she said. “I’ve learned to never say it can’t get worse because when you do that, you kind of get slapped around.”

(credit: CBS)

Each December she asks herself if she still loves this job after a year of hard work. While it is not getting any easier, she still enjoys it and looks forward to doing it all over again.

“I’m very optimistic that we’re going to have a good spring, we’re going to have a great crop next year,” Perdue said. “I’ve started thinking about how, the trends of this year are going to affect next year so I can be prepared businesswise but yeah, you always got to be thinking ahead.”

LINK: Ya Ya Farm and Orchard

Shawn Chitnis

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