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A Pueblo Chile “Founding Father” Worries About the Arkansas River Valley Growers’ Future

Colorado State University Arkansas Valley Research Center manager Mike Bartolo talks about vegetable crop research during a field day, September 4, 2018. The field day was held in conjunction with the groundbreaking of the Arkansas Valley Campus. (Photo Courtesy Marilyn Bay Drake))

The man who played a key role in the development of the Pueblo Chile said he is concerned for the long-term future of agriculture in Pueblo County.

Michael Bartolo, who was named 2018 Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association's Robert Sakata Member of the Year on Feb. 26, said that, although the snowpack looked positive for Southern Colorado growers when he spoke with Pulp on February 18, it remained to be seen what precipitation this month and April would come before a more thorough assessment could be made of the upcoming growing season.

But the snowpack and this year’s planting season are not what’s foremost on the mind of the director of the Colorado State University Arkansas Valley Research Center in Rocky Ford (He has worked at the center for 29 years.)

Bartolo is most concerned about the building of homes that occurred over the past 30 to 40 years on the St. Charles Mesa in Pueblo County and the thousands of acres of water rights on the Mesa purchased by the Pueblo Board of Water Works in anticipation of future urban and suburban growth. The roughly 4,000 acres of water rights the Water Works Board now owns is destined to become barren land on what once was the richest soil in the Arkansas River Valley, he said.

Bartolo explained that in other countries agricultural land is cared for “like a child” and although the next generation of growers shows potential by bringing technology to farming, that potential could all go for not if the community doesn’t stop building and hoarding water rights on prime agricultural land.

“I look at like the glass is half full,” he said. “You’ve got young people doing some innovative things,” but the usable land they need is shrinking.

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