Where will new farm lands be located?
There are millions of acres of dry lands which can be irrigated in the Western states and made available to farmers when projects now under construction or authorized are completed. Such lands, for example, are found in the Columbia River Basin in the state of Washington (where great expanses of sagebrush desert and abandoned farmlands can be reclaimed), in the central valley of California and in Arizona and the Intermountain states.
In the Columbia River Basin, types of farming which combine livestock and crop production seem to have the greatest promise. The government is authorized to buy large blocks of this land and subdivide it into family-size units for sale or lease.
The Bureau of Reclamation of the Department of the Interior estimates that from 2 to 5 million acres of newly reclaimed western land will become available within the next ten years. This would provide from 25,000 to 50,000 new farms. In addition, supplemental water will be provided for 5 million acres now inadequately irrigated.
Some additional acreage can be developed by draining the wooded lowlands along the Mississippi River in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Missouri, and the Coastal Plain of the South Atlantic states and the Gulf of Mexico. Such projects, however, are largely in the rather distant future and not many new farms can be expected in the next few years.
The Army and Navy have been using lands for airfields, bar racks, bombing ranges, proving grounds, and the like. The armed forces acquired altogether about 7 million acres during the defense and war period. Perhaps half of this area will be released. If so, as many as 10,000 farms and ranches of various sizes could be developed.
Finally, there is Alaska. The success of the agricultural colony planted in the Matanuska Valley during the depression has demonstrated—despite great handicaps—that farming can be made to pay in parts of this undeveloped territory. Some sections of the public domain—notably in the Tanana River Valley in the vicinity of Fairbanks, the Matanuska Valley, and on the Kenai Peninsula—which have good roads, are near to markets, and enjoy a favorable climate, can be successfully farmed.
Since Alaska now imports a large portion of its food supply from the States, homesteading offers a good chance of success to enterprising and hardy individuals. Anyone can obtain up to 160 acres of the public domain by cultivating the soil for at least three years. Under certain conditions veterans can shorten the period of residence and cultivation to as little as one year. A family intending to take up a homestead in Alaska should have sufficient funds to finance itself while putting the land on a productive basis, since much of it must first be cleared. For anyone seriously interested, the General Land Office, Department of the Interior, is the place to write for information.