Colorado – Profit from the High Altitude Advantage of Colorado Certified Seed Potatoes
Colorado has a long, rich tradition of raising potatoes dating from the early 1880’s and today is one of the top production areas in the U.S. raising over 59,000 acres of high quality potatoes. About 4,000 acres of summer crop potatoes are grown in the northeastern part of the state with another 55,000 acres grown in the San Luis Valley. The San Luis Valley is the highest agricultural valley used for potato production in the U.S. Of these acres, approximately 15,000 are entered for certification each year.
Most of Colorado’s seed potatoes are grown in the San Luis Valley, an isolated, arid, high mountain valley located 7600’ above sea level, where the summer days are warm and sunny and the evenings are cool. This climate keeps disease and insect pressure low and gives Colorado’s seed potatoes a high altitude vigor. This high altitude advantage, coupled with a very reputable inspection service, breeding program and research services, as well as numerous grower-operated tissue culture labs and greenhouses provide buyers with some of the highest quality certified seed potatoes available anywhere in the world. Growers routinely produce in excess of 125 different cultivars of potatoes as seed. Invariably, this allows buyers to utilize top quality seed to achieve higher yields and net return. Finally, Colorado holds a unique position, located in the west central part of the U.S., making its seed easily accessible to all major growing areas in the U.S., Mexico, and South and Central America.
In the early 1920’s, potato growers saw the need to begin a highly focused effort of improving the quality of seed potatoes available to growers in Colorado and neighboring states. In 1940 the State Department of Agriculture through Colorado State University commissioned the Colorado Potato Certification Service. This service, in conjunction with the CCPGA, has gone to great lengths to provide the very best seed potatoes possible. Growers have a high level of commitment to quality seed which is evident in every stage of seed potato production in Colorado. Fields are closely monitored for insect pests using pan traps, sticky cards coupled with individual field screening and an area wide, comprehensive aphid monitoring system. Pesticides are applied as needed or at critical times during the growing season to keep all pests at extremely low levels. Colorado Potato Beetle does not occur in the San Luis Valley. A ‘degree day’ model developed specifically for Colorado conditions is used to predict the timing of the first field infections of early blight. Fields are treated as necessary giving growers’ very efficient use of fungicides. A late blight quarantine program has been in effect for several years and has been quite successful in keeping out late blight from primary Colorado seed areas. These steps often result in lower overall chemical use than many other areas.
Marketing seed potatoes in Colorado is accomplished by individual growers marketing their own seed stocks, giving the buyer a one-on-one customer service. Each lot is listed in an annual seed directory with base level summer field inspection readings given. Federal and State marketing orders are in place in Colorado requiring each load of seed shipped from a grower’s operation to have a Federal/State inspection for grade and quality regardless of the seed buyer’s location (local, in-state, out-of-state, or out-of-country. This assures the buyer of receiving the size and grade requested every time. Most seed loads are moved bulk from modern seed storage facilities. However, growers do take special orders and often move certified seed in individual sacks, mini-bulk bags or cribs. All documentation for the seed is provided in a timely fashion, usually with the load, and includes; a bulk certificate or tags, North American Health Certificate, and shipping point inspection information. Seed grower follow-up with the seed buyers is standard practice and buyer satisfaction is quite high.