The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s annual report on the domestic potato industry drives home the message the Salt Lake City-based United Potato Growers of America and other groups promoting acreage restraint have been trying to hammer into growers’ heads: if you plant less, higher returns will come.

About 415 million cwt. of potatoes were produced in the U.S. in 2008, down 7% from the year before, according to the recently released annual potato summary from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Of that, spuds slated for table stock markets accounted for about 109 million cwt., down from 111 million cwt. in 2007 and 113 cwt. in 2006.

But because of the robust markets, the value of potatoes grown domestically went up in 2008, despite the lower production.

At $3.5 billion, the value of the ‘08 crop was up 13% from the year before. The per-hundredweight cost price last year was $8.42, 91 cents more than in 2007.

At 1.05 million acres, harvested acreage also was down 7% from the year before. And the average yield per acre was unchanged from the 2007 record of 396 cwt. per acre, according to the report.

For fall potatoes, which make up the vast majority of spud production, yields were even higher. At 411 cwt. per acre, they set a new record.

At the state level, harvested acreage fell in seven of the eight top spud-producing states in 2008, according to the USDA.

Acreage fell in Idaho (from 349,000 to 304,000 acres), Washington (160,000 to 155,000), North Dakota (91,000 to 81,000), Wisconsin (64,000 to 62,000), Colorado (59,000 to 57,000), Minnesota (49,000 to 48,000) and Oregon (36,500 to 35,300).

The only Top Eight state to see an acreage increase from 2007 to 2008 was Michigan, which climbed from 42,000 to 42,500 acres.

Production dropped accordingly, with six of the seven states in which acreage dropped also reporting lower volume figures, according to the report.

The exception was Colorado. Despite its acreage drop, production there increased from 20.9 million cwt. in 2007 to 21.9 million cwt. in 2008, thanks to an increase in yields from 350 to 370 cwt. per acre.

Colorado also enjoyed the highest prices of any of the Top Eight spud-producing states in 2008. The price per cwt. in Colorado was $11.60, followed by Wisconsin ($11.30), Michigan ($10.10), Oregon ($8.80), North Dakota ($8.30), Minnesota ($8.25), Washington ($7.45) and Idaho ($7.15).

Fresh-market prices were higher, with fresh Idaho spuds getting $8.50 per cwt. in 2008, up from $7.40 in 2007; Colorado $13.30, up from $11.10; North Dakota $14.90, up from $8.70; and Wisconsin $14.90, up from $8.70. The USDA report does not break down other top producing states by fresh vs. processed.

Overall, fresh-market U.S. spuds sold for an average of $14.44 per cwt. in 2008, up from $10.84 in 2007. Prices were particularly high in the second half of the year.

In Idaho, for instance, fresh-market prices were $6 per cwt. in April but $19 in August. Colorado’s January average price of $9.90 per cwt. had ballooned to $24.90 by October.