The Rocky Ford cantaloupes that will hit groceries and farmers markets this summer got their start mid-April in the form of tiny, shiny blue seeds.
If they meet 2016's production, farmers in this growing region of southeast Colorado will produce 4 million cantaloupe for delivery to Colorado and the surrounding states. Walking behind a planting machine, farmer Matthew Proctor was optimistic as he scanned the ground to ensure the seeds were properly nestled in the holes the planter created.
"In 90 days, hopefully we'll have a full vine crop that where your walking right now you'd have to pick your feet up to about your knees to walk through and you'd be stumbling all over melons everywhere out in the field," said Proctor, who owns Proctor Produce.
— Colorado Matters (@ColoradoMatters) April 24, 2017
The crops, even though they are planted with the aid of satellite technology, are always at the mercy of weather: from the powerful winds that can hit southeastern Colorado without warning, to the hailstorms that can decimate a crop in one spot and leave plants a few acres away unscathed.
"You know, you hold your breath when the big billowing storm clouds come by, and there are days you just work," Proctor said. "But when you see some of those things, you hold your breath and hope and do a little praying."
Nearby, farmer Michael Hirakata is taking a different approach than Proctor. Instead of seeds, he'll put young transplants in his field. He's planting later to partly avoid any early weather problems.
Hirakata heads the Rocky Ford Growers Association, which oversees planting in the region. The group was formed in 2011 to ensure rigorous safety standards were enforced in the area after a listeria outbreak traced to a farm about 90 miles away in Holly, Colorado, killed 33 people nationwide. In an interview with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner, Hirakata talked about this outlook for Rocky Ford and a new uncertainty the industry ag faces in President Donald Trump's immigration policy.