Keep Colorado Journalism, Local. Donate to PULP.
In this Wednesday, June 27, 2018, photograph, Paul Schlagel, right, and his son Scott, stand in a sugar beet field on their farm in Longmont, Colo. "Sugar beets are part of our heritage but it's also deeper than that," said Paul, a 63-year-old lifelong farmer. "The sugar beet grower group is small, but we are dedicated to the sugar industry and keeping it going for generations." (Timothy Hurst/Fort Collins Coloradoan via AP)

Colorado is once again sweet on sugar beets

Last updated:

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) — Colorado’s past, present and future are all visible from Paul Schlagel’s front porch just a few miles off Interstate 25 in Longmont. A pristine view of Longs Peak and the Rocky Mountain range rests undisturbed to the west. Manufacturing and housing developments have inched closer from the east, and the once desolate Boulder County Roa…

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) — Colorado’s past, present and future are all visible from Paul Schlagel’s front porch just a few miles off Interstate 25 in Longmont.
A pristine view of Longs Peak and the Rocky Mountain range rests undisturbed to the west. Manufacturing and housing developments have inched closer from the east, and the once desolate Boulder County Road 20½ that runs by the farmhouse is now full of steady traffic.
A rotation of crops surrounding the homestead includes a field of sugar beets, which the Schlagel family has grown since they immigrated to Colorado with legions of other Germans from Russia in 1907. Paul and his son, Scott, lead the farming today, and a sixth generation of the Schlagel family arrived earlier this month.
“Sugar beets are part of our heritage but it’s also deeper than that,” said Paul, a 63-year-old lifelong farmer. “The sugar beet grower group is small, but we are dedicated to the sugar industry and keeping it going for generations.”
These sugar beets are different than the purple vegetable often used in salads and championed on “The Office” by Dwight Schrute. When harvested, sugar beets are about a foot long and weigh 2 to 5 pounds.
The crop is solely grown to be converted into white table sugar — a scientific process once outlined on an episode of Sesame Street.
“We are getting as good a sugar beet crop as ever,” Paul said. “And whatever you say about sugar, it is still a vital ingredient to cooking and does a lot more than just make stuff sweet.”
The Schlagel family has grown sugar beets since it was Colorado’s first true cash crop, populating the state in the 20th century with laborers from around the world and diversifying an economy previously reliant on mining and ranching. They’ve stuck with sugar beets as their importance in the state’s economy has dwindled with fluctuating sugar commodities prices, a shrunken farm labor workforce and other industries emerging.
But now technological and research advancements have the Schlagels and other farmers growing sugar beets as efficiently as ever. Despite a diminishing amount of farmland dedicated to the crop, Colorado farmers produced more than 1 million tons of sugar beets last year for the first time since 2000.
“It is really a sustainability success story,” said Rebecca Larson, the vice president and chief scientist for the Western Sugar Cooperative. “Technology has allowed us to not disturb the soil, not burn as much fuel and grow the sugar beets on fewer acres.”
The biggest population growth Colorado would ever experience came around the turn of the 20th century, thanks to sugar beets.
An 1888 experiment conducted by Colorado State University precursor college Colorado A&M had determined that Colorado’s soil and climate were ideal for growing sugar beets. When a German seed supplier visited the Fort Collins area shortly thereafter, Coloradoan archives say he predicted the area’s real estate would double within a few years — little did he know what it would become today.
Immigrants came from various parts of the world to help plant, weed, harvest and labor in the sugar beet fields. Fort Collins grew from 3,000 residents in 1900 to more than 8,000 by 1910.
Similar growth came in the other Centennial State cities. Fort Morgan’s population tripled within four years of its sugar beet industry starting, and the property prices there increased from $40 an acre to about $200 an acre.
“If you go back in history, sugar beets were the cash crop,” Paul said. “They populated Colorado and built the railroads. … People used to line up to work on your farm.”
Great Western Sugar Co. processing plants popped up in more than 20 different Colorado cities — if your town had one, it was on the map.
Farmers would deliver their sugar beet harvest every fall so they could be converted into sugar crystals.
“The sugar beet crop was always the check to pay off the bank, all your bills and the farm,” Paul said. “Everything else you grew was to feed your animals.”
Processing plants previously operated in Fort Collins at 625 Ninth St., in the space just behind New Belgium Brewing that today houses the Fort Collins Street Department; in Windsor near the current intersection of First and Walnut streets; in Loveland at the intersection of Madison Avenue and East 11th Street; and in Greeley just east of U.S. Highway 85 at 1302 First Ave.
Sugar beet profitability began to wane in the 1950s. New regulations and competition from imported sugar cane hurt the industry.
Processing factories began to close across the state, ma…
Thanks for reading this short excerpt from the paid post! Fancy buying it to read all of it?
Read now, pay later

This article
Colorado is once again sweet on sugar beets
0.24
USD
Powered by

Zeen Social Icons