Rocky Ford Plants New Crop, Embraces New Regulations

With the spring planting season in full swing, Rocky Ford melon farmers are hoping that their faltering business can be revived thanks to tough new safety regulations.

Last year a major listeria outbreak was traced to Jensen Farm, a melon farm located 90 miles outside of Rocky Ford, Colorado. The outbreak was the deadliest in recent history, killing more than 30 people nationwide and sickening hundreds. The resulting fallout hurt the melon industry nationwide and shook consumer confidence.

The resulting investigation did little to ease consumer worries. Despite being responsible for the deadliest outbreak of foodborne illness in generations, Jensen Farm had recently passed several safety inspections, including one performed just weeks before the outbreak. It was later revealed  that Private companies contracted by the farm performed these inspections, leading many to question their impartiality. This incestuous relationship was common given the state Department of Agriculture’s limited investigatory staff.

In an effort to rebuild their image, Rocky Ford growers, in conjunction with the state government, have created the Rocky Ford Growers Association. In order to join, farmers will have to submit to biannual safety inspections, one of which will be a surprise in order to guarantee safety compliance. In addition, rather than relying on private contractors, these inspections will be performed by the state Department of Agriculture.

Growers must also abide by new safety standards formulated by agricultural researchers at Colorado State University that will overhaul cooling and cleaning regulations. Members of the association have also agreed to tax themselves in order to help pay for the new inspections and regulations.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer