MONTE VISTA, CO — With the 2010 San Luis Valley potato crop in its last few months of shipments, the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee is making plans for the 2011 season with marketing, research and educational programs.
CPAC Executive Director Jim Ehrlich said in mid-May that some shippers in the San Luis Valley are trying to stretch storage volume into July but that demand on an already short crop was increased due to Wisconsin also having short supplies.
“Our crop estimate was actually very close,” Mr. Ehrlich said, and USDA to-date shipment figures through the end of April showed that Colorado had fewer shipments for the month compared to the same time in 2010. April shipments for 2011 were 3,229 this year and 3,521 in 2010, down from 3,890 for the month in 2009.
But YTD figures showed 26,740 shipments in 2011, 25,614 shipments in 2010 and 24,884 shipments in 2009. Prices this April outpaced those of previous years as well, with bulk russets bringing $13.82 per hundredweight, compared to $4.32 in 2010 and $9.42 in 2009. U.S. No. 1 russets were $8.80, compared to $3.11 last year and $4.70 the previous year.
Mr. Ehrlich said that last year saw 56,200 planted acres, and sources have told him that this year will be very similar.
“I don’t know that it will be up due to the water issues,” he said. “The cost of production is so high that many growers don’t want to take the risk of increasing acreage.”
He said that fuel and petroleum-based products costs are factors, but “for sure water costs are up.”
After years of studies and negotiations, the San Luis Valley has established a water subdistrict and is collecting fees from users. Mr. Ehrlich said that growers are charged a $6-per-acre fee for usage but get credit for any surface water they are able to return to the ground. But with additional fees and charges, the final cost can be as high as $45 per acre foot of water in addition to the $6 per-acre fee.
“I understand that farmers can grow most varieties on 16 to 20 inches of water per acre,” he said.
The matter is compounded by the fact that snowpack in the San Juan Mountains that feed rivers and streams in the San Luis Valley was at 75 percent of normal in May. “That is not good,” he said.
As a result of costs and the shortfall of moisture during the winter, Mr. Ehrlich said, “I think we’ll see a focus on water-efficient crops.”
He added that new Colorado potato varieties are showing promise, adding, “In the next few years, I think we’ll see some earlier varieties in production. They look like they will use less water and won’t have the cullage of current varieties.”
In the research arena that is studying and developing the new varieties, Mr. Ehrlich said that work continues through a block grant program. “We are fortunate that with all the federal budget cuts, our potato breeding program was not cut,” he said.
And the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee is also involved in a K-12 curriculum program that is available to teachers throughout the state. Local teacher Judy Lopez wrote the curriculum, adapting each for age and grade.
The study encompasses reading, writing, communications, science and history. Older students study nutrition and economics, and all ages engage in field trips to learn more about potato farming, storage, shipping and marketing.
“Judy will use the curriculum for conservation workshops she is facilitating this year,” Mr. Ehrlich said. “Sixty teachers are attending, and we’re hoping more and more will take a look at the program and get involved.”
The committee is also working with the U.S. Potato Board on the school lunch challenge and how to educate consumers on the reasons that potatoes should be part of their diets.
On the marketing and promotions front, Administrator Linda Weyers said that the committee is sponsoring the opening dinner at this year’s Future Farmers of America state convention, set for June 1 in Alamosa. More than 1,400 attendees will be served Colorado potatoes at the banquet.
‘Heart Healthy’ campaign
In other activities, the committee is working with the Colorado Rockies and radio station 850 KOA on a “heart healthy” campaign this summer. The committee is providing two portable defibrillators as grand prizes to contest winners. Ms. Weyers explained that the contestants who win will donate the defibrillators to a school of their choice. America Red Cross is co-sponsoring the giveaway with the potato committee.
On Sept. 10, the committee will put on its annual Potato Festival in Monte Vista, and the committee will be among the exhibitors at the Colorado Pavilion in Atlanta during the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit this October.