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    Colorado's Weld County is still home to potato festivals and dotted with spuds-growing artifacts, but the local potato industry has little to contribute anymore to the area’s vast legacy.

    A shell of what it once was, Weld’s potato acreage took another hit this year as the last large-scale grower of the crop — Strohauer Farms in LaSalle — plans to raise half of its potatoes outside of the state of Colorado, citing water issues as the reason for doing so.

    The Potato Day Festival for about 25 years has been a staple of autumn activities in Greeley — a community where the potato is credited as being the first commercially viable crop locally grown.

    But since 1987, Weld County has gone from growing 3,855 acres of potatoes on 66 farms to what’s expected to be about 550 acres this year, grown by just two farmers.

    Harry Strohauer — owner of Strohauer Farms, which grows nearly all of the remaining potatoes in Weld County — and others point the finger at water issues to explain why spuds production has decreased so sharply.

    Strohauer said he’d rather keep his crops growing near LaSalle — the only place his family has farmed since coming here in the 1940s — than in New Mexico, where he’ll plant 500 of his 1,000 total potato acres this year.

    The climate along the northern Front Range and his soil close to home are ideal for growing the crop, and Weld’s proximity to large markets (the Denver metro area) and the infrastructure (Interstate 25, U.S. 34 and U.S. 85) add to the local benefits. “But the truth is, with how we manage things in this state, we just don’t have a reliable source of water anymore,” said Strohauer, who’s an executive committee member for the National Potato Council and has spearheaded Strohauer Farms since he was 16 years old, following his father’s death.

    As the region’s population has grown, so have the overall demands for water.

    The tightening of water supplies and the uncertainty of the resource in dry years has become too much for some farmers, including potato growers, who stress that potatoes are an “unforgiving” crop if not fully irrigated — especially if you’re trying to meet the standards of King Soopers, Whole Foods and others, as Strohauer is.