Colorado farmers fear record low temps; overnight lows could result in millions in crop losses

WELD COUNTY, Colo. - A prolonged cold snap overnight Monday into Tuesday could result in millions of dollars in crop losses along Colorado's Front Range and Eastern Plains. 

Depending on how cold it gets, consumers could be paying a whole lot more for produce this summer. That's because many young plants are already above ground and could freeze and die Tuesday morning.

Dave Petrocco is a third generation farmer in the Brighton and LaSalle areas, and he knows vegetables.

"We grow green beans, turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens. We also grow green and red romaine lettuce, spinach, onions," said Petrocco. 

He's also far too familiar with natural disasters.

"We get floods, we get droughts. You name it -- we get it," he said. 

Petrocco has about 2,800 acres of vegetables.

"It's very cold for this time of the year. Unfortunately, strange things happen in our state and this is one of them," said Petrocco.

It's his 80 acres of green beans that have already sprouted that he's most worried about late Monday night into Tuesday morning.

"We're very likely to lose these tomorrow morning. Probably two or three in the morning -- five, six," said Petrocco. "That's about 25 percent of our green bean crop for the season. That could be a huge spoiler in terms of how we do on that particular crop."

There is a last-ditch effort to save the green beans. It's a farming technique that seems a little odd given the amount of moisture this storm has produced.

"You see irrigation water flowing, which is really weird," said Petrocco. "And it absolutely is odd because the plants do not need moisture. They've had plenty."

The idea is to get as much humidity in the warm field as possible, so when the cold air settles in, the humidity rises and staves off the frost.

"It's a buffer," said Petrocco. "It's actually like a blanket."

The lettuce is also up in a neighboring field, as well as spinach. Petrocco says those crops are heartier and should survive one night below freezing.

"As a grower, you always try to save your crops," he said.

If the green beans are lost overnight, the ones you buy in the grocery store in July won't be from around here. And you'll pay for it as a consumer.

"There are a lot of freight costs involved with food," said Petrocco. "If the food is coming from another state or another country, it will cost you much more."

And in Colorado, growing your food is often risky business.

"We always play with the averages on when we plant and when we don't plant," said Petrocco. "Sometimes up jumps the devil and these kinds of things happen."

Mike Hungenberg with Hungenberg Produce in Greeley said they have several acres of carrots that have already emerged from the ground.

Hungenberg said their concern is any period of prolonged cold Tuesday morning.

"If the temperature falls below 25-24 degrees overnight for six to nine hours or longer, that could be very bad," said Hungenberg. 

Most farmers in Weld County will know by midday Tuesday how significant the losses will be.

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