Wow ~ A staple of Colorado agriculture, "beta vulgaris," the sugar beet, is displayed here in all of its humble glory. Unlike sugar cane, which grows in the tropics, the sugar beet thrives in temperate zones, and has been a reliable cash crop in Colorado since the early days. In 1747, when Andreas Sigismund Marggraf, professor of physics in the Academy of Science of Berlin, Germany, discovered that sugar could be extracted from beets, they were much smaller and produced less sugar, about 5% of their weight. Selective breeding has developed the beets we have today, which yield up to 20% of their weight in usable sugar.
Beet sugar was experimented with in the United States in New England. The “Beet Sugar Society of Philadelphia” was founded in 1836 and promoted home-produced beet sugar as an alternative to the slave-produced cane sugar from the West Indies or sugar imported from Asia (called "free sugar" because it was grown without using slavery) but which tasted "awful." The first successful beet sugar produced in the United States was in 1870 in California, and by 1915 the industry was thriving. The Colorado climate, with warm days and cool nights, produces excellent beets. However, since sugar beet crops exhaust the soil rapidly, crop rotation is recommended and necessary. Normally, beets are grown in the same ground every third year; peas, beans or grain are raised the other two years.
In the United States, genetically modified sugar beets, engineered for resistance to glyphosate, an herbicide marketed as Roundup, were developed by Monsanto as a genetically modified crop. Glyphosate-resistant sugar beets contain a biosynthetic gene that protects them from the effects of glyphosate when it is applied to the crop as a means to control weeds. In 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) deregulated glyphosate-resistant sugar beets after it conducted an environmental assessment and determined glyphosate-resistant sugar beets were highly unlikely to become a plant pest. Sugar from glyphosate-resistant sugar beets has been approved for human and animal consumption in multiple countries, but commercial production of biotech beets has been approved only in the United States and Canada.This continues to generate controversy.
The Western Sugar Cooperative is a grower-owned American agricultural cooperative that has been part of the sugar beet story in Colorado since the beginning.
Its origins date from when Charles Boettcher founded the Great Western Sugar Company and opened a sugar beet plant in Loveland, Colorado, and another in Greeley, Colorado. When the Utah Sugar Company approached Great Western Sugar Company, the companies agreed to allow Utah Sugar to expand into Idaho, provided Utah Sugar didn't expand into Colorado.This was likely on behalf of Henry Osborne Havemeyer, whose American Sugar Refining Company owned 50% of both companies. The Loveland plant closed in 1985, when the company was purchased by the sugar firm Tate & Lyle, at which time the name was changed to the Western Sugar Company. In 2002, more than 1000 sugar beet growers purchased the company, creating the grower-owned cooperative.
The organization is headquartered in Denver, Colorado. It has five refineries, located at Fort Morgan, Colorado; Scottsbluff, Nebraska; Torrington and Lovell, Wyoming; and Billings, Montana.
A search in our Digital Collections results in 82 photographs pertaining to sugar beets, and hundreds more references to books on the Beet Sugar Industry, manuscripts and other publications expanding on the history of the Sugar Beet industry in Colorado. We also have many books about GMO, or "Genetically Modified Foods."
"Wow Photo Wednesday" celebrates photographs in the Denver Public Library's Digital Collections that have "The Wow Factor" and that highlight the myriad delightful nuggets in our database.