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GP sugar beet enterprise was short-lived

There was a piece in the Mail Tribune 100 not too long ago that referenced sugar beets grown in the Grants Pass area. I'd like to know the history of that enterprise, when it ended and why it no longer exists.

— James H., Medford

In the early months of 1915, there was a big push to build a sugar-beet factory in the Medford area, with the backers using all sorts of hyperbole to portray such a factory as a license to print money. That year, representatives from the Utah-Idaho Beet Sugar Company inspected farms and took soil samples in the Rogue Valley to determine whether there would be enough capacity to supply a factory.

The soil tests didn't go particularly well, however, in large part because irrigation was not yet common. The company passed on a Medford factory after a soil expert with the company determined only 210 of 2,000 acres in the area were suitable for the crop, according to a Feb. 11, 1915, Mail Tribune article.

In November 1916, the company built its factory in Grants Pass. The factory stood for only three years and was operational for only two years, unsurprisingly put out by the arid climate that prevented the beets from growing to the size and in numbers the factory needed.

Equipment from the plant moved to Washington, first to Toppenish in 1919, then Bellingham in 1925, then back to Toppenish in 1937. In 1941, the company sold equipment that originated in Grants Pass to South American sugar company Remolacheras y Azucarers Del Uruguay Sociedad Anonima for $147,500, where it was installed in Esta Montes, Uruguay.

We can't imagine any of that century-old equipment remains in use, but it's a sweet thought.

— Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. To see a collection of columns, go to mailtribune.com/youasked. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.