“Sugar Beets Are Sweet …”

Published online: Jun 07, 2024 Feature South Dakota Ag Heritage Museum
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In this week's Throwback Thursday, these two men survey a sugar beet field in 1936. During WWII, sugar beets became a high-demand crop.

Sugar was the first and last item rationed, as sugar cane was difficult to import due to the war. This drastically increased the demand for sugar beets. Because these root crops could grow in moderate climates, South Dakota and the region ramped up production. In 1943, the U.S. government called for 1,050,000 million acres of sugar beets to be harvested.

Unfortunately, largely due to a labor shortage, only 59 percent or 619,500 acres came to fruition. Up until the late 20th century, this crop was heavily labor-intensive.

Many work programs such as the POW farm labor plan and the Bracero program evolved out of a need for successful sugar production.