Irrigation plays a critical role in the growing and production of potatoes. The Carey Act of 1894 made it possible for more land to be opened up for agricultural use. Under this Act, the so-called public land states with desert lands were offered one million federal acres each, provided they would cause the granted lands to be irrigated.
Idaho benefited from the Carey Act far more than did any other state. About 60% of all lands irrigated in the United States under the Carey Act are in Idaho. Over the period of forty years, the state of Idaho received 618,000 acres of previously desert, arid land. The overall benefit from the construction of dams and canals, the settlement of farms, the birth of towns and cities and the production of crops on the economy of Idaho is impossible to measure. Carey Act reclamation projects have put substantial tracts of land under cultivation that became family farms and were utilized to grow Idaho potatoes. Without this one piece of legislation many of today’s potato fields would be range for cattle and sheep.
High-lift pumping opened up even more of the desert lands to farming. Several projects were developed to bring water from the Snake River. The water was pumped 500 to 725 feet up from the river.
The combination of private citizens and private lending institutions expanding the agricultural economy of Idaho by adding significantly to potato production must certainly be included in the history of the industry. It is one of the noteworthy eras in the story of the potato in Idaho, an era, however, that belonged to the past when there was plentiful desert entry land, cheap energy and lower development costs.