CSU to reopen Rogers Mesa site

By Pat Sunderland


Thanks to the efforts of state Rep. Millie Hamner, House District 61, Colorado State University plans to re-open the Rogers Mesa research site.

The facility was taken out of operation in 2011, due to budget cuts throughout the CSU system. CSU plans to reinvigorate the operation in Delta County, as well as its other ag research facilities on the Western Slope.

Michael Schweigert, director of government affairs for CSU, said it's CSU's intent to re-open the Rogers Mesa facility in the next three to six months, while looking for industry and community partners.

"Engagement and extension activities will be the primary emphasis of the reopened site," he said.

"This is exciting news as we go forward with our whole ENGAGE initiative around energy, agriculture and innovation," said Trish Thibodo, executive director of Delta County Economic Development. "Knowing CSU is putting resources into reinvigorating the Rogers Mesa site opens up new doors. It's a great way to continue to support ag in our area."

DCED is excited about potential partnerships with CSU, and CSU president Tony Frank is equally committed to building community relationships, according to Schweigert.

"Rich is a liaison for CSU and attends meetings of the Joint Budget Committee, always advocating for funding for CSU," said Rep. Millie Hamner, "so I reached out to him, wondering why he had never asked for any resources for the Hotchkiss facility." She is one of three Democrats serving on the Joint Budget Commission, which develops budget recommendations for the General Assembly.

Established in 1961, the CSU Rogers Mesa station engaged in research in tree crops, grapes, vegetables and alternative crops. When it was closed in June 2011, the property was put on the market.

CSU was dissuaded from selling the site by stakeholders who asked for time to study alternative uses of the property that could promote local economic development. A feasibility study was funded by Delta County, Region 10 and the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station. While ideas were plentiful, no plans came to fruition.

During her visits to Delta County, Rep. Hamner said constituents often commented on the buildings and acreage just off Highway 92. Some were concerned about the facility just sitting there empty; others had interest in repurposing the property.

"It had been on my mind, so I reached out to Rich," said Rep. Hamner. "He took the idea back to the CSU president, Tony Frank, and they realized with a relatively small investment, they could leverage additional funds to improve agricultural operations in all of CSU's Western Slope sites."

Realizing there was interest from CSU, Rep. Hamner worked with committee members to allocate about $875,000 through the budget process. Rep. Hamner said CSU plans to issue bonds to maximize funding and support growers and orchardists across the Western Slope.

Helping farmers large and small produce better, faster and more efficiently is at the heart of CSU's mission, Schweigert said.

"I think we have a lot of very good starting points," he added. "Fruit production, organic farming, grapes, apple cider are all huge pieces, so we have a lot of material to start with."

While the facility is being spruced up, Schweigert said CSU will be reaching out to hear about the educational needs of the community. "We know we're going to replant an orchard, because it's such a vital part of the area, and it can help demonstrate different types of growing systems that could be used."

In addition to building partnerships in the community, CSU will be working to develop closer collaborations between campus-based faculty and agricultural experiment stations in Fruita, on Orchard Mesa and on Rogers Mesa.

"We're really excited about the possibilities," Schweigert said.

"We're very appreciative to Rep. Hamner and the General Assembly for providing the funding to reopen."