Wheat, Water, Alfalfa and Beets
Located in the arid region Major Stephen Long described in 1820 as “The Great American Desert,” the farm land of the Little Thompson Valley required regular summer irrigation to grow crops.
James Eaglin became the valley’s first farmer in 1866 when he planted wheat at his newly claimed homestead on the Little Thompson river bottom. When Eaglin filed for water rights from the river in 1869, he laid the foundation for the system of organized “ditch companies” that continue to collect water from the river during the spring runoff and store it for irrigation in the dry summer months.
While wheat was the first crop to be grown in the Little Thompson Valley, alfalfa became an important crop in the 1890s when it was discovered that it could be used as feed to profitably fatten sheep. By 1905 when area farmers shipped over 63,000 lambs to market, Berthoud had been built into a bustling agricultural center of Larimer County that was well known for its prosperous farmers.
That prosperity was bolstered in the early 1900s when the Great Western Sugar Company introduced sugar beets to Northern Colorado and built railroads and factories to develop the industry. Berthoud growers delivered beets to several rural dumping stations where the beets were loaded into boxcars and hauled to sugar factories in nearby Loveland and Longmont.
Agriculture continues to contribute to the heritage of the Little Thompson Valley even though gradual urbanization has greatly diminished the availability of water and farm land.