The Debus Farm is a historic sugar beet farm in Logan County, located north of the South Platte River near the intersection of US 138 and County Road 67. Founded by the German Russian Debus family in 1925, the farm is a prominent example of the contributions that German Russian families made to the state’s sugar beet industry throughout the twentieth century.
Originally from the German state of Hesse, ancestors of the Debus family moved to the Volga River valley in Russia during the eighteenth century. They made a decent living farming sugar beets and other crops until economic distress and oppression by the Russian czars forced them and many other German families out of the valley in the 1870s.
German Russians’ knowledge of sugar beet cultivation and harvesting made them valuable to the burgeoning beet industry in the United States, particularly as field laborers. In the 1890s, Henry and Maria Debus moved from Kukkus, Russia, to Lincoln, Nebraska, where the couple had their first child, Mary, in 1901. The family relocated several times over the next ten years, finding work in beet fields in Nebraska and Michigan before settling in Paxton, Nebraska, around 1913. By 1917 the Debuses had seven children: Mary, Phillip, Katherine, Henry, Marie, Amelia, and George. Maria died of childbirth complications in 1920, leaving Henry to support their large family on his own.
Henry Debus became a naturalized citizen in 1924. The next year he bought 160 well-irrigated acres near the small town of Proctor, Colorado, from ranchers Robert and Leola Hamil. After spending two decades laboring in others’ beet fields, the Debus family moved to Colorado to start their own beet farm.
Farming in Logan County
By the time the Debuses arrived in Logan County, sugar beet farming had been driving the local economy for more than twenty years. A beet processing factory opened in Sterling in 1905, and by 1910 sugar beets were planted on 5,352 acres in the county.
The property that Henry bought in 1925 was formerly a ranch, so it needed plenty of work to become a farm. It already had a farmhouse, but Henry and his children had to construct a new barn, henhouse, granary, and other buildings. On the surrounding land they mainly grew sugar beets along with some alfalfa and oats for the draught horses and other livestock. Near the farmhouse, they planted a variety of trees to provide shade and fruit, including apple, cherry, cottonwood, hackberry, and mulberry. In 1939 the family built a garage to house tractors and other farm vehicles.
Henry never remarried and worked the farm until his death in 1960. His son Henry married Lydia Korbe of Iliff, Colorado, in 1931, and the couple had two sons, Donald Henry and George Lavern. As demand for domestic sugar tapered off in the next few decades, the Debus farm began to diversify, adding corn and beef cattle. But the Debuses were still known as proficient sugar beet farmers; in 1944 the Great Western Sugar Company recognized Henry Debus Jr. as one of the top sugar beet producers in the Ovid/Proctor District.
Henry Debus Jr. retired in 1972 after his son Donald bought the family farm for $60,000. Donald expanded the farm’s cattle and calf operation, increasing the number of head from 44 in 1980 to 134 in 2000. The farm also began producing more corn, even winning local awards for “Best Ears of Corn” from 1998 to 2001.
In 2001, after more than seventy-five years of successful farming, the Debus family sold the farm to the Parker Water & Sanitation District. The district began buying irrigated Logan County farmland in 2001 to generate extra income and ensure a future water supply for the town of Parker. The district leased the property, and the land continues to be farmed today. The farm site was added to the State Register of Historic Places in 2006.
Today the historic Debus farm is operated by tenants George O. and Rhonda Hernandez. It remains a legacy of the important contributions made by German Russian families to the agricultural development of Colorado.