State of the State

Agriculture: Peach crop plump, sweet — and pricey
Colorado’s peach crop took its time this year, with fruit growing plump and flavorful thanks to an unusually long, cool spring.

Although fruit is ripening 10 to 14 days later than normal, growers say the crop is one of the best in years.

“The peaches are late, but everything is coming off superb. Flavor and size are just awesome,” said Carol Zadrozny, owner of Z’s Orchard in Palisade.

However, consumers likely are paying more for their fruit this year, not only because of the high quality, but because growers’ production costs have increased significantly. Fruit growers have been hammered by rapidly rising costs for fuel, labor, fertilizer and pesticides, and at least part of those cost increases are being passed along to customers.

“All of our expenses are up, big,” said Bob Helmer of Alida’s Fruits in Palisade. Helmer said his production costs have doubled over the past three years, and product prices reflect those higher costs.

Zadrozny, who sells produce at several weekly farmers’ markets from Grand Junction to Breckenridge, said she has tried to hold the line on prices this year at Grand Junction-area markets. But she charges higher prices in some other communities to cover the cost of trucking her products to those markets.

Many growers in the Palisade area report full crops of high-quality peaches this year. Peach crops in higher-elevation Delta County orchards sustained some freeze damage, which reduced the size of their harvest, said Harold Larsen, fruit program manager for Colorado State University’s Orchard Mesa Research Center.

Larsen estimated the statewide peach crop at 10,000 to 11,000 tons this year. That’s slightly off from the 13,000 tons of peaches produced statewide in 2007. The value of last year’s peach harvest was estimated at $17 million, according to the Colorado Department of Agriculture. –By Bob Kretschman, Western Slope correspondent

Education: CSU launches environmental school to push research and jobs
Colorado State University is upping the ante on its campaign to become known as a “green” university by creating a school focused on the environment that will drive research and prepare students for the work force.

The School of Global Environmental Sustainability encompasses the university’s environmental education and research. Diana Wall, who will lead the school as founding director, will form advisory committees over the next year to help create curriculum and programs for the school. New courses could begin as early as 2010.

Wall is a professor in the Department of Biology and a senior research scientist at the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory. She wants to ensure that every department on campus offers an environmental course or experience for students.

“Environmental problems are expansive and require expertise in all disciplines to ensure that sustainable solutions are developed and implemented,” Wall said in a prepared statement.

The renewable energy job market could create 40 million jobs nationwide by 2030, according to studies cited by CSU, which also noted that Gov. Bill Ritter’s Colorado Climate Action Plan calls for integrating sustainability material into classes beginning at the K-12 level so students have academic and technical skills needed by employers. –By Mike Cote

Energy: Nanotechnology will mean big business for renewable energy
Al Gore has thrown down a challenge to the American public: Produce 100 percent of the country‘s electricity from clean, carbon-free sources within 10 years.

In July, Colorado hosted the first Nano Renewable Energy Summit, where scientists, energy industry experts, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs met to discuss how nanotechnology can help meet that goal. Although still in its infancy, nanotechnology is emerging as a significant force in making “clean and green” energy a reality.

“Nanotechnology is enabling technology; it has the opportunity to impact all industries across the U.S. and around the globe,” said former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater.

Nanomaterials, the basis of nanotechnology, are incredibly small; a sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick; there are 25.4 million nanometers in an inch; and fingernails grow a nanometer a second. Researchers and scientists working at this level are able to understand and manipulate matter to improve any manufactured good, making it lighter, stronger, more efficient and more durable.

Slater said nanotechnology is being used in the auto industry today in several ways: to make tougher tires, more durable paint, water-repellent windshields and lighter, stronger steel frames. Right around the corner, Slater said, is the use of nanotechnology for better fuel cells and combustion catalysts.

In 2007, VC firms invested $702 million in nanotechnology startups, while $147 billion in nano-enabled products were sold worldwide, according to Lux Research, a market research firm specializing in emerging technologies. –By Rebecca Cole

By the numbers
$340 million: Annual value of a five-year contract signed by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy with the U.S. Department of Energy to manage the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden. The consortium includes five national and international collaborators, including the University of Colorado at Boulder, the Colorado School of Mines and Colorado State University.

$702 million: How much venture capital firms invested in nanotechnology startups in 2007. In July, Colorado hosted the first Nano Renewable Energy Summit.

40 million: Number of jobs that could be created by the renewable energy job market by 2030, according to studies cited by Colorado State University, which just launched a new school focused on environmental and sustainable issues.

31,500: Number of jobs created in Colorado over a 12-month period as of the end of July. In contrast, the U.S. economy lost an estimated 51,000 net jobs in July, noted economist Jeff Thredgold in the Vectra Bank Colorado Small Business Index.

(Sources: University of Colorado, Lux Research, Colorado State University, Vectra Bank Colorado.)

On the record
“The question is whether the price point will be there for the larger share of the population. I hope to be able to finally get to that price point where I can afford it. That’s going to be a challenge. … Space is still a relatively hostile and dangerous environment.”
— Michael Gass, CEO of United Launch Alliance, on the prospect of space tourism in his lifetime. (UAL is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing that employs 1,600 people in Colorado.)