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Potato movement steady from SLV but down from 2012

Monte Vista, CO — Although movement of potatoes from Colorado’s San Luis Valley was holding steady going into 2013, year-to-date figures show overall shipments were down by more than 10 percent from the same period in 2011-12.

In early January, the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee reported that December 2012 figures showed 3,056 480-hundredweight equivalents had been shipped from the growing area, compared to 3,431 in December 2011. Truck shipments for fresh totaled 2,715 in December 2012 and 3,022 in December 2011. slv-opener-january-2013Snowpack in the San Juan Mountains in Colorado’s southwest quadrant had reported a scant 31 percent of normal in late December, but snow had fallen over the holidays, and by the first week of January snowpack was at more than 65 percent of normal. Still, the San Luis Valley’s water situation is at a critical point. (Photo by Kathleen Thomas Gaspar)Rail, however, increased to 178 loads, compared to 149 the previous year.

CPAC Executive Director Jim Ehrlich said growers and shippers have been contending with multiple issues, including water shortages at home and less acreage planted.

“Water continues to be an issue,” he said in mid-December when snowpack in the San Juans was at 31 percent of normal.

“It’s a wreck all over the state,” Mr. Ehrlich continued. “Snowpack is lower now than it was in 2002, and that was the worst drought year we’d experienced.”

The primary San Luis Valley aquifer had dropped by 120,000 acre feet, he said, adding, “Some guys won’t have water on the edges of the valley.”

But he noted that historically the biggest snows come during the March-May season, and in fact by early January the snowpack had increased to more than 65 percent of normal.

Still, Mr. Ehrlich said potato acreage in the valley will likely be decreased again in 2013. And if the farm bill passes, it will include a conservation reserve enhancement program whereby growers voluntarily take land out of production.

Even without a farm bill, growers have been taking steps toward conservation for the past several years. “Green manure” crops that build the soil and require less water are seeing increased plantings.

Covers such as oats, pearl millet, buckwheat, turnips, tiller radishes, peas and lentils are among the more popular green manure items, and some growers are also looking at the feasibility of drip irrigation for Colorado’s high-altitude spuds.

Mr. Ehrlich said block grants are being sought for research that would include examining drip techniques.