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Low water and prices result in acreage cut for SLV

Potato growers in Colorado have seen a wide range of weather and weather-related conditions this season, with late summer rainfall bringing some areas a much needed, although temporary, respite from the state's ongoing drought.

In the San Luis Valley, where the majority of Colorado's potatoes are grown, fewer acres were planted this spring due to the water shortage. Expectations at harvest were for lower yields in the early varieties, but the August rainfall was seen as helping size the later spuds.

san-luis-valley-opener-shotPotato acres in the San Luis Valley dipped below 50,000 in 2013, with 49,700 planted. That represents an 11 percent drop from the previous year, according to Colorado Potato Administrative Committee Executive Director Jim Ehrlich. Jim Ehrlich, executive director of the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee based in Monte Vista, CO, said 49,700 acres were planted for 2013, almost 11 percent fewer acres than 2012, and he said low water and low prices factored into the cut.

"The reduction was due to the low price of potatoes in 2012," Ehrlich said in late August. He said alternate crops such as grains were fetching higher prices, and those crops require less water to produce.

"The early crop will have lower yields," he said, but I think the crop overall is good with good quality. We had more normal weather this summer, and all in all our yields will exceed last year's. All reports now indicate a good crop for us."

Ehrlich also said prices should be up from last year.

"I think prices will be stronger this year, but I don't think our acreage will go up next year as a result," he said.

Ehrlich said 2013 spuds cleaned up mid- to late August as shippers readied for the new crop to come in. Norkotahs continue to comprise more than 50 percent of the acreage, but he said the variety also continues to decline.

"We are working on both early and late maturing spuds, and new russet varieties are always going in," he said. In addition, specialty and fingerlings have increased in production and now make up 3.5 percent by volume and possibly 5 percent by acreage.

Ehrlich said that applications were submitted in May for Block Grants to fund a two-year research project on new varieties' taste profiles.

"The focus is on analyzing chemical compounds in potatoes that we know provide good flavor," he said. "We will use our breeding programs to select varieties, and we are testing all varieties with the research screening tool."

The potato committee is also entering into an agreement with a software company that will provide shipments and prices in real time.

"CPAC will have the license, and the software will be available to every shipper," Ehrlich said. "Growers will also have access to Faceforward software."

Currently select sheds are beta testing the software, which Ehrlich said gives the local industry "the opportunity to understand where markets stand in real time."