(Nov. 19) The U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts national fall potato crop production will be 413.5 million cwt., just slightly lower than last year’s total, but some Western shippers expect marketable numbers to be lower.

Smaller sizes, misshapen potatoes and storage problems caused by heat in several states could decrease the total packout in the West, while eastern and central states are seeing higher production and quality.

The figures, released in the USDA’s annual mid-November potato production report, also estimate total U.S. production for all seasons at 459.2 million cwt., compared to 459.8 million cwt. in 2002.

Idaho’s planted acreage dropped 15,000 acres, to 360,000, and production is expected to drop 8%, to 123.2 million cwt., the USDA reported.

In Colorado, a 15% drop from last year’s crop is expected because drought conditions forced growers to plant fewer acres.

In Washington, even though acres were stable at 165,000 in 2002 and 2003, yields were up 20 cwt. per acre, at 580 cwt., and production is estimated at 95.7 million cwt.

Central states’ production will jump 12% from last year and 7% from 2001, with 109 million cwt., according to the USDA. North Dakota’s production increased 15%, to 26.9 million cwt., and Minnesota’s increased 19%, to 14.6 million cwt.