“It taught the farmers how to farm and gave them a cash crop to pay their taxes”, said Harold Cox, who thrashed beets for 15 years. “It made the difference between living and existing here”. Farmers began experimenting with beet seed about 1932, Cox said. Shortly afterwards, U and I opened a beet seed plant at 200 N Main. Beet seed for the plant came largely from Washington County, Utah and from Overton and Mesquite, Nevada, according to Doug Quayle, a veteran of U and I for 32 years. Quayle said a small amount of beet seed came from Salem, Oregon. The seed was processed, then sent throughout the intermountain west for growing sugar beets. Because the sugar beet seed is a biannual plant, farmers in Southern Utah planted in the fall and harvested the seed in late June and early July.
Originally hauled to the plant in one hundred pound sacks, it was later transported in bulk. The plant could store up to two and a quarter million pounds of see when all three warehouses were full. During the plant’s operation, land cultivated for beet seed by the nearly forty contract growers ranged from two hundred to five hundred acres. While Salt Lake City was U and I headquarters, it had beet processing plants in South Dakota; Idaho Falls, Idaho; West Jordan, Garland and St. George, Utah and in Toppenish and Moses Lake, Washington.
The St. George plant was the only seed processing plant. By December 1979, however, U and I had all but closed up its St. George operation and eventually its entire intermountain operation faded quietly into oblivion.
While the beet seed operation is only a memory, the beet plant has been converted to a new use, or is it an old use? Today, the Pioneer Center for The Arts is located here, and it houses an opera house, which the building has been used for prior to its conversion to a beet plant. Two other buildings, once used as a beet warehouse, now house the St. George Art Museum and the Social Hall. The place has come a full circle.