(Aug. 30) MONTE VISTA, Colo. — Spotty rain and persistent cloud cover could lead to lower yields in the upcoming potato crop from southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, growers and shippers there said.

“The crop is going to be off, yieldwise, for sure, and the size profile is going to be a lot smaller, which could cause some problems marketing,” said Steve Seward, general manager of Harvest Select LLC.

But, according to Jim Ehrlich, executive director of the Monte Vista-based Colorado Potato Administrative Committee, yield shouldn’t be a major issue.

“I think it’s probably going to be an average year,” he said, noting that average is about 375 100-pound bags to the acre.

Acreage, at 59,900 statewide, is slightly up over last year’s 58,200, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A year ago, Colorado produced about 23 million cwt. of spuds, Ehrlich said.

“We’re not going to have an above-average crop,” he said.

Digging had not begun in earnest by the end of August, according to the USDA, although the first early shipments of round reds had gone out.

As of Aug. 29, according to the USDA, bales of five 10-pound film bags nonsize A russet norkotahs from the Twin Falls-Burley district in Idaho were mostly $5-5.50; 50-pound cartons of 40-70s, $11-12; 80s, $10.50-11; 90s, $9-10; and 100s, $8-9.

A drier-than-usual August followed a wet July, according to growers and shippers in the valley.

The region, classified as high-mountain desert, normally averages only about 8 inches of rain per year. But in July alone, Monte Vista got 2.68 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

The region dried up in August, however, even though August is normally its wettest month of the year. Monte Vista had received only about 0.7 inches of precipitation through Aug. 29, compared with the historical average of 1.49 inches.

Persistent overcast conditions, even when and where it wasn’t raining, could cause some sizing issues, although quality isn’t likely to be affected, shippers said.

A year after the United Potato Growers of America, Salt Lake City, reported an 11% cut in acreage nationwide, the slight increase in acreage this year came as no shock to United’s Colorado branch in Monte Vista.

“These prices bring a little acreage creep, but it’s still a very manageable crop,” said Dwight Freeman, chief executive officer of United Fresh Potato Growers of Colorado.

Last year, as the season got under way, U.S. One nonsize A russet norkotahs in bales of five 10-pound film bags were priced at $6.50-7; 50-pound cartons of 40-70s were mostly $10; 80s, $9; 90s, $8; and 100s, $7.