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San Luis Valley 2014 spud acreage increased, fingerlings on the rise

ALAMOSA, CO — With potato acreage up 8.5 percent over 2013’s numbers, Colorado Potato Administrative Committee Executive Director Jim Ehrlich responded optimistically when asked recently about the 2014 San Luis Valley crop.

The annual flyover took place during the week of June 16, and Ehrlich said the official acreage number was set at 54,200, compared to 49,700 last season. He noted that while russets continue to comprise the bulk of production in the region, fingerling acreage could well be up this year as well.cpac-banquetA large contingent of potato growers and industry members gathered at the Cattails Golf Course in Alamosa, CO, for the annual golf tourney and banquet hosted by Colorado Potato Administrative Committee. (Photo courtesy of CPAC)

He was asked about increases in colored varieties, including yellows, reds and purples as well as the fingerlings.

“We won’t have this information until NASS does the variety survey in late July,” Ehrlich said. “I believe that fingerling acreage will be up, but I’m not sure about the others.”

In addition to the bump in acreage, the region was looking at a good crop when Ehrlich was contacted in June.

“The crop is off to a very good start,” he said, adding that while planting took place “a tad later than last year,” the plants looked healthy.

“I believe harvest will start in earnest [around] Sept. 10,” he continued.

CPAC, along with the U.S. Potato Board and National Potato Council, works tirelessly to educate not only buyers but also consumers on the health benefits of a balanced diet that includes potatoes. The organization’s efforts are tied to research conducted at the Colorado State University Research Center north of Monte Vista, CO, where Sastry Jayanty is undertaking a potato breeding project that includes flavor attributes.

“CSU has started a SC block grant that will develop a screening tool for positive flavor attributes for potato breeding when evaluating new varieties,” Ehrlich explained. “This may or may not be health related.”

Dietary studies have proven the healthy attributes of potatoes, including white-fleshed spuds that often receive negative press, and Ehrlich said the potato industry is gratified that the vegetable is clearing hurdles for inclusion in the federal Women, Infants & Children, or WIC, benefits program.

“I am pleased to see that after seven years we are getting very close to a

resolution that will allow white potatoes into the WIC program,” Ehrlich said. “The  science and current dietary guidelines clearly show that white potatoes should be in the WIC program. [And] the proposed appropriation amendments will allow WIC mothers a choice with their vouchers to purchase a healthy, affordable vegetable that will help their families nutritionally and economically.”

Ehrlich publicly thanked Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), and Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) “for helping members of congress see [exclusion from WIC] was not right or fair.”

When asked about the closure of Mexico to U.S. potatoes just weeks after the country was open to American shippers, Ehrlich said simply, “We are extremely disappointed that the country isn’t open and hope for quick resolution to the dispute.”