(July 16) The fall potato harvest is expected to be down 2% from last year, according to early estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA said 1.1 million acres have been planted, down 3% from a year ago, but still 2% above the 2001 mark. Overall, the USDA estimates that growers have planted 1.28 million acres, down 2% from 2002.

Western states have fallen the furthest.

The nation’s largest producer, Idaho, dropped its acreage by 4% from last year. The state, which planted 375,000 acres for fall in 2002, planted just 360,000 acres this fall.

The USDA reported that short irrigation water supplies this spring prompted cutbacks in acreage in Colorado and Oregon. Colorado cut its area from the 71,600 acres planted last year to 66,300 acres this fall, a drop of 7%. Oregon saw its acreage cut by 14% from last fall.

While the USDA said late spring rains have helped water supplies in Idaho and Malheur County, Ore., water shortages remain in Colorado.

Washington’s potato plantings are down 5,000 acres from last year’s fall total of 170,000.

Fall plantings are up slightly in central states. While a wet spring slowed planting and early development, recent warm temperatures have helped the crop catch up.

The region’s leading producer, North Dakota, has seen no change in plantings. The same held true for Minnesota. Wisconsin saw its acreage slip by just 1%.

Growers in the East have planted 106,200 acres of fall potatoes, according to the USDA. That figure is up 1% from last year and up 3% from 2001.