This year’s San Luis Valley potato production should be slightly less than last year’s because fewer acres were planted.

In fall 2010, Colorado growers harvested about 21.5 million pounds of potatoes from 55,200 acres, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service reported in its Aug. 25 Vegetables and Melons Outlook.

This season, San Luis Valley growers planted about 53,980 acres of potatoes, about 1,600 acres less than last year, said Jim Ehrlich, executive director of Colorado Potato Administrative Committee, Monte Vista.

Ehrlich said the decrease in acreage probably was an effort by growers to keep supply and demand in balance.

With a large crop this year in the Pacific Northwest, San Luis Valley growers didn’t want to be caught with an oversupply.

Potato acreage in Washington and Idaho was about 10% greater than last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service reported in August.

Trampas McCormick, manager at grower-shipper Worley & McCullough Inc., Monte Vista, said he saw the San Luis Valley’s decrease in acreage as a blessing, considering the number of potato acres currently in the U.S.

The USDA has reported that potato acreage this fall was 948,600, about 6% more than last year.

In one season, growers ship about 15.5 million cwt. of potatoes from the San Luis Valley, Ehrlich said.

About 20.5 million cwt. are produced, so about three-fourths of the production goes to fresh market.

Most of the valley’s potatoes are russets, and slightly more than 2% are yellow potatoes, Ehrlich said.

Impact of climate

“We’ve had a hot, dry summer,” said Steve Tillman, manager, grower-shipper Monte Vista Potato Grower Co-op Association, Monte Vista.

The growing season has been dry, cold and windy, Ehrlich said.

The high-alpine San Luis Valley typically receives about seven inches of moisture annually, but this year had gotten only about three inches, he said.

In June, the valley received less than one-tenths of an inch of precipitation, the Colorado Division of Wildlife reported on its website.

Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, Ehrlich said he expects the valley’s acreage to produce a crop of average size. Severe weather, including hail, often damages potato crops, but that was not a problem this year, he said.

Tillman also said there had been very little hail in the area.

The San Luis Valley of Colorado incorporates Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Rio Grande and Saguache counties in the south-central part of the state.

Although the area is dry, the valley typically provides a good climate for growing potatoes, with warm and sunny days and cool nights, Ehrlich said.

Because it is surrounded by mountains and the valley’s floor is about 7,500 feet above sea level, it tends to have fewer disease or pest problems, he said.