Colorado State Gets Funding to Support Development of Raising, Marketing Unique Crops

A feast of new and unique crops for Colorado awaits development through a partnership between Colorado State University and the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

Colorado State recently secured a $1.5 million, five-year grant from the CDA for a new program focusing on specialty crops. The money allows Colorado State’s Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Cooperative Extension and Agricultural Experiment Station to work toward commercializing specialty crops to reach consumers and growers with products such as strawberries, medicinal herbs and exotic vegetables.

"We’re excited to expand Colorado’s potential for crops not widely grown in our state," said Stephen Wallner, chairman of the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture.

"The new Colorado Specialty Crops Program will be a win-win for producers and consumers," Wallner said. "The program will help Colorado meet the consumer demand for diverse, high-quality horticultural crops that fit contemporary lifestyles and will help growers reduce their financial risks when raising such crops. In the past, it’s been difficult for growers to make a profit on specialty crops and find markets for their product."

Because of the program, consumers may be able to purchase more Colorado-grown goods, including organic produce, not usually grown on a large scale in Colorado over the past few years. Those goods range from fruits, peppers and exotic vegetables to ornamental plants. Colorado also will potentially supply other states, such as Florida, with stock plants for crops such as strawberries.

Wallner pointed out that Colorado has more acres devoted to growing organic crops than any other state, with the exception of California, but that the state has essentially no academic or government-based research and development to help organic growers.

The program will establish a regional clearinghouse to bring expertise and ideas together. The clearinghouse will focus on soliciting, receiving, evaluating and developing ideas for producing and marketing high-value specialty crops for Colorado. After market analysis and production tests, the clearinghouse will quickly provide ideas how-to knowledge to growers.

The group already has identified several specific crops. For example, Colorado’s San Luis Valley is conducive to growing exceptional stock plants that supply other growers with start-up crops. One specialty crop that grows well there as a stock plant is strawberries, a fruit needed by growers in Florida and California. Most strawberries grown as transplants for commercial use are grown in Canada and California, but show quality and disease problems. Tests at Colorado State showed that strawberry stock plants grown in the San Luis Valley produced excellent yields in Florida.

Tests are planned for other crops, such as organic artichokes and other vegetables; Mira Sol ("looking at the sun") chili pepper; oca, a South American tuber (root-like) crop; ornamental trees; and herbs and medicinal plant crops. In addition, long-term plans for food crops to be used as medicines are in the works for possible testing as Colorado specialty crops.