Moses Lake Oral History
Narrator: Don Goodwin (DG)
Interviewer: Ed Baroch (EB)
January 4, 1996
Moses Lake, Washington
[The following is a verbatim transcription]
EB: . . . My next question was a little bit related to the sugar beet industry, which at one time was a very major part of the economy of the Moses Lake area. And then because of the processing plant shutting down, it became a thing of the past, although now we’re up to the point where it couldn’t happen again in the future. Don, what comments would you have on that industry?
DG: We raised a few sugar beets back during the time when the processing plant was here in Moses Lake, originally. I think the, I think they brought that plant over from Montana originally, in 1950. Well it started up in 1953. . . At that time I think there was probably sixty, seventy thousand acres of sugar beets raised here. As of now, they are now raising sugar beets again, but even in those days I think the sugar content was run around seventeen, eighteen percent, which is higher than in any of the other areas. Higher sugar content and the tonnage was at that time, twenty, twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight tons was a pretty good yield. Where compared, where they pulled this plant out of Montana, I guess they were down to ten, twelve tons to the acre. So, consequently it was a pretty good crop for the farmers. One thing about it if they, it was a, their acreage was allotted to them, they couldn’t just plant all the beets they wanted. There was controls on the acreage. And, but if you had a beet allotment, you’d more or less go to the bank and the farmer would loan you money to plant other crops too based on the security of the beet crop, cause it was a pretty sure thing. If anybody knew how to raise beets, they’d, with the water that we have here and the fertilizer and the, and um, it was valuable to have this beet allotment. . .
. . . the late fifties they decided to increase the production of the plant because they had enough acres here that they needed more production so they built on some new, part of the plant was new equipment and that didn’t work too well because it didn’t mesh too well with the old equipment. And so they had a, consequently had a lot of breakdowns. But beets were pretty successful here until in the late seventies when the federal government. Well the federal government gave so much a pound, I think it was sixteen, seventeen cents a pound, subsidies to the beet industry for every pound of beet sugar that was raised, and the story was, I don’t know how true, what the really, how true it was. But I guess that they, the beet company needed another cent a pound raise in that sugar support to make it profitable to keep the plant open and the government didn’t agree to increase that support by that cent a pound or so, and so consequently the sugar plant closed here and also, U & I was a sugar company up in Utah, and the sugar company also closed their plants in Toppenish and I think, Idaho. I don’t think they even exist anymore as a plant. But that also, that sugar plant in the winter months, when they started harvesting beets, starting in about the twentieth of September, then they started the plant up and start processing in the winter months, probably about the first part of October, and that would continue on probably, early, the middle part of February. And that was a, they had probably about 125 people that worked year round at the plant, but they hired another hundred and fifty or two hundred at harvest time to process the beets, and that was a big source of revenue for the farmers, in those days. Farming was pretty tough and many of the farmer out, employees out there on the processing end during the campaign was farmers. They looked forward to it year after year after year. They work a shift, a eight hour shift out there and then come home. . .
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