Development of Commercial Agriculture

During the 1870s a few homesteaders, including a number of Mormon immigrants from Utah, attempted to develop farming economies along Arizona’s few streams and rivers. Droughts, floods, and the need for heavy capital investment made it clear that for commercial farming to succeed in the state it would have to be practiced on a large scale, be highly organized, and use the best technology available. To do this, central Arizona agricultural interests developed plans for large water-storage and flood-control systems that included expensive dams and extensive canal systems. The Salt River Project, completed in 1911, delivered water to farmers in the Phoenix area (now the state’s agricultural heartland). Water shortages continued to plague the state, however, and in 1963, after a long and bitter fight with California, Arizona obtained a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that affirmed Arizona’s right to some 2.8 million acre-feet (3.5 billion square metres) of water annually from the Colorado River, as well as the entire flow of the Gila River. In 1968, after a lengthy and heated debate, the U.S. Congress authorized the Central Arizona Project, a massive system of pumps and canals to conduct water from the Colorado River to the Phoenix and Tucson areas; the project was completed in 1993.

Range cattle constituted a major source of income for Arizona from the 1860s until World War II, when large feedlots became prominent. Those lots, in turn, have begun to disappear; today the cattle raised in Arizona constitute only a small percentage of the country’s edible beef.

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