Building an Economy on Potatoes

Potatoes first came to Idaho by way of Henry Harmon Spalding, a Presbyterian missionary. In 1836 Spalding began a mission at Lapwai to establish Christianity with the Nez Perce Indians. He wanted to teach these people how to feed themselves through the development of their own agriculture.  The Nez Perce people began trading the Idaho potatoes to settlers for other goods.

Promising Farmland

The first significant fields of potatoes were planted by immigrants coming to Idaho. This took place almost three years prior to the organization of the Idaho Territory.

 There people grew large harvests of potatoes in the rich Idaho soil. The extra crops were turned into cash which was used to begin a great potato market.

The gold rush that reached Idaho in 1860 also played a significant role in the potato industry. The potatoes were grown and harvested to feed the miners.

In 1876 it was reported that over 2,500,000 pounds of potatoes, at a cost of over $23,000, had been shipped to San Francisco.

Potato growers in 1881 were advised to evaporate their harvest by three fourths in order to reduce the shipping costs of this product. A 60 pound bushel of potatoes could be reduced by 13 pounds at a cost of 9 cents. As such a bushel that would normally cost $1.20 to ship it 140 miles would then cost only 26 cents.

 Potato agriculture spread from eastern Idaho quickly. In 1870, a freighter named Henry E. Jenkins hauled potatoes to a judge in Blackfoot, Idaho named Stephens. Jenkins convinced Stephens to begin his own potato harvest which became the first in the Blackfoot area.

In 1882, 2000 acres of potatoes were harvested. The average cost per acres was $1.67. The entire harvest had a value of over $250,000. In 1904, the potato market had a value of over $1,300,000.

Idaho Agriculture

Today the potato crop adds significant value to the Idaho economy, and it offers employment opportunities to those individuals considering Idaho real estate. Many Idaho communities such as Pocatello, ID thrive off both the growing and processing of these mighty spuds.Idaho is the largest producer of potatoes in the country and has been for the last fifty years. Potato growers in Idaho produce around 30 percent of the crop in the US.

The Russet Burbank potato is an excellent variety for processing. It earned its reputation with the onset of dehydrated and frozen potato products. It has quickly made Idaho the biggest producer of processed potato products. This crop has benefited Idaho by providing...



        over 39,000 jobs

        more than $6,000,000,000 in sales

        close to $490,000,000 in income

        almost $2,000,000,000 in added value

        close to $1,300,000,000 in income

Since its early days, the potato industry has made considerable contributions to the Idaho economy. These contributions positively influence the Idaho property values, making the area an attractive option for individuals.

 Kevin Hughes

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