(July 12) Early estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture call for a 5% increase in fall potato acreage.

The USDA reported total plantings at 1.17 million acres, compared to 1.11 million last season. Still, this season’s total acreage estimate comes in at 4% below the acreage of fall 2000.

Idaho, which leads the nation in production, has 395,000 acres planted for this fall, compared to 370,000 in 2001, an increase of 7%. Two years ago, Idaho had 415,000 acres, said Thomas Cooper, a USDA market news reporter in Idaho Falls.

“We’re still well under that,” he said.

The USDA has estimated total harvested acreage will reach 1.14 million acres this fall, compared with 1.09 million in 2001.

Traditionally, the National Agricultural Statistics Service expects some acreage to be abandoned before harvest, Cooper said. For example, this season floods in Wisconsin and the Red River Valley should reduce the plantings that actually make it to production.

In the case of Wisconsin, the USDA reports 85,000 acres planted this season, compared with 84,000 last year. All the same, the USDA estimated Wisconsin’s harvested 2002 acreage at 79,000 acres, a drop from 83,000 acres in 2001.

A forecast of U.S. fall potato production will be released Nov. 12.

Acreage is the first part of the equation for crop estimates, Cooper said. Yields and quality also figure in, and crops still have a way to go, he said.

Washington russet norkotahs should start off in volume around July 29, he said.

Growers in Idaho, whose harvest should come off a week or two later, are concerned about heat and a lack of water, he said.