(Sept. 8) MONTE VISTA, Colo. — San Luis Valley potato grower-shippers hope reduced acreage and good quality will translate into profitable markets this fall and winter.

“It won’t be a dynamic, tear-’em-up year, but I see Colorado in a position to be strong,” said David Tonso, sales manager and co-owner of Canon Potato Co. Inc., Center. “We’re hoping for it. Last year was a bloodbath. A lot of people are walking a pretty thin line. This year doesn’t have to be a barnburner, but it does have to be profitable.”

Most grower-shippers began shipping in volume right on time, the week after Labor Day. Acreage is down from 66,294 in 2003 to an estimated 65,000 this year, said Rick Zink, an extension officer with the San Luis Valley Research Center.

On Sept. 8, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $4.25 for five 10-pound film bags of U.S. One russet norkotahs, compared to $4.50 on Sept. 15, 2003, the first date last year on which San Luis Valley potato prices were quoted.

Fifty-pound cartons of U.S. One norkotah 40-60s sold for $8.50 on Sept. 8, down from $9-10 on Sept. 15, 2003.

Tonso reported above-average quality on all varieties, with excellent sizing on the valley’s mainstay, the norkotah russet. When it comes to size, bigger is usually better, with 40-60s often fetching the highest prices. Canon will sell about 4,000 acres’ worth of potatoes this year, down from about 4,500 last year, Tonso said. Reduced acreage in the valley can be attributed to two causes — low prices and the state’s continuing drought problem.

Thanks to a wetter winter in the mountains, the drought, while still severe, isn’t as bad this year as last, Tonso said.

“It’s better, but it’s still critical,” Tonso said. “We’ve still got a long ways to go. There are still wells that are coming up short.”

Acreage at Sanderson Farms Inc. is down about 20% from last year, said Scott Sanderson. Despite much more snowpack this year, he agreed with Tonso that the valley has a ways to go.

“There are some growers in the eastern part of the valley who won’t notice the impact of the higher snowpack for three or four years,” Sanderson said. “We need maybe four or five years of higher snowfall and rain to get us caught up.”