Potatoes are harvested at United Fresh Produce.
Potatoes are harvested at United Fresh Produce.

Drought conditions in the San Luis Valley have caused some growers to cut back slightly on potato acreage.

Jim Ehrlich, executive director of the Monte Vista-based Colorado Potato Administrative Committee, said there was a 10% reduction in acreage from last year.

“Acreage is right at 50,000 areas this year,” he said.

The lack of water was a contributing factor.

“In light of the water situation, our acreage is down slightly,” said Jed Ellithorpe, a partner in Aspen Produce LLC, Center, Colo.

However, Ellithorpe said the reduction won’t really affect the company’s supplies that much.

“It won’t affect our volume a whole lot,” he said.

Ehrlich also said last year’s market played a role in the reduction.

“Water limitations as a result of the drought, and poor crop prices for the 2012-13 crop were factors,” he said.

Other growers also have noticed the added stress from the water situation.

Shane Watt, vice president of sourcing and grower relations for Wada Farms Marketing Group, Idaho Falls, Idaho, said the snowpack is the main concern right now.

“The snowpack is the largest contributing factor to the drought,” he said.

Watt also said that he doesn’t expect to see increased production in that area unless drastic changes take place.

“If we have multiple consecutive years with above normal snow pack and rainfall, it could change but at this point almost everything is irrigated, and we won’t really be able to increase potato acreage,” he said.

Ellithorpe says the drought conditions may be part of a longer drought cycle, and the rains this summer might indicate some relief in the future.

“We’ve been dealing with these drought conditions for at least 10 years, but we’re optimistic that it will turn around. Hopefully the rain this summer will be an indicator that Mother Nature may provide some relief this winter,” Ellithorpe said.

However, the situation is still severe.

“We have had a more normal summer this year with less heat and more rain but we are still suffering from the fourth-lowest snowpack on record, which dates back to the 1880s,” Ehrlich said.


Ellithorpe says that if drought conditions don’t improve, potatoes likely won’t be as affected as other crops.

“If we don’t get relief through the annual snow pack, we’ll probably be faced with acreage cuts, although those cuts don’t generally happen in the potato world,” he said.

Potatoes are more of a cash crop, and growers have often shaped their entire operations around that harvest.

“They’ve built their operations around the volume of potatoes they generally grow each year, so reducing that acreage is a big challenge,” Ellithorpe said.

Instead, Ellithorpe says growers try to rotate crops and cut other, less profitable commodities.

Les Alderete, general manager at Center-based Skyline Potato Co., agreed.

“Water will play a major role in next year’s plantings,” he said.

In addition, the region has created a water subdistrict, which is attempting to address the problem by retiring irrigated acreage in the area to balance water pumping with water recharge from snowpack, Ehrlich said.

“The subdistrict has created a pool of money by taxing growers for their water usage and in turn using this money to incentivize land retirement and less pumping,” he said.