(Feb. 7) By an overwhelming majority, members of the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee, Monte Vista, voted Feb. 1 to keep mandatory U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections on all loads shipped from the San Luis Valley.

Linda Weyers, the committee’s acting director, said 79% of the 153 members that voted were in favor of mandatory inspections. Voter turnout was very high, she said. Of the 157 members registered to vote, all but four did so.

The vote signified support for the committee, Weyers said.

“We really feel like the growers told us how they feel on the issue,” Weyers said. “We’re really pleased with the outcome.”

Weyers said she hopes the vote of support will help the committee fill its executive director position, which has been open for six months.

The committee hasn’t been able to replace Chris Voight, who left in early September to take a similar position with the Moses Lake-based Washington State Potato Commission.

Voight left some big shoes to fill, said David Tonso, director of sales for Canyon Potato Co., and chairman of marketing subcommittee of the administrative committee.

“Right now we’re on a huge upswing,” Tonso said. “Chris really turned things around.”

Along with the growth into new areas the committee has experienced, there have been new challenges. A voluntary reduction in acreage of about 11% has decreased funding, and a lack of snow pack this winter may affect this season’s crop, Tonso said.

Tonso said the area is about 50% behind in its annual snow pack this winter.

“That can all change in a matter of a month or so, but right now it’s looking kinda gloomy,” he said. “Water issues are going to limit the amount of product that we can grow in the valley.”

The reduction in acreage resulted in a favorable market for grower-shippers, however.

“Prices right now are at a really good level, and movement’s been steady,” Tonso said in late January. “Movement in Colorado has been a little better than we thought it would be. We had an exceptionally great crop.”

Tonso said he does not expect 2006 acreage to increase much from 2005. Colorado had about 58,000 acres in 2005, and he said he expects 58,000 to 60,000 acres in 2006.