Idaho potato acreage is expected to match last year's high level despite plummeting prices, huge national surpluses and pleas from grower organizations to cut back.

"We are encouraging all our growers to cut production at least 10 percent," said Bert Moulton, acting director of the Potato Growers of Idaho, who recommends optimum statewide production of 85 million hundredweight on 312,000 to 315,000 acres."That's a good, marketable crop with good profit potential in it," he said.

Paul Patterson, an agricultural economist for the University of Idaho Extension Service, said potato production up 10.5 percent in Idaho last year has kept prices flat. The situation has been exacerbated by production levels up 8 percent in Washington and almost 12 percent in Oregon.

Idaho potato producers put in 340,000 acres last year and were rewarded with the third-largest crop on record at 99.7 million hundredweight.

"I'm at least hopeful that they will reduce their acreage because the way prices have gone this year, unless the growers were contracted, they're not making any money this year they're losing money," Patterson said.

"Most of the growers who were on the open market, their price was below their cost of production," he said. "They cannot continue to do that indefinitely."

Moulton said the five-year average price for potatoes is $3.86 per hundredweight. Most processors paid an average of $4.05 to $4.10 for spuds from the 1987 crop because of their high quality.