About the Sugar Beet Harvest

A photo from South Dakota, as I haven’t visited North Dakota yet!

Here it is, my informational article for the sugar beet harvest! Expect this post to get updated as I learn more on the job.

What It Is

American Sugar Crystal Company (ASCC) is a Minnesota agricultural cooperative that hires over 1300 workers to assist with the sugar beet harvest in northern Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana every fall for what is referred to as ‘The Unbeetable Experience’. Hours are long and the work is physically demanding, but the pay is good: up to $2,400 per person for two weeks of work.

All positions require being on your feet your whole shift with some requiring walking, bending, twisting, and lifting depending on the job. All jobs are classified as light industrial, here are the job descriptions for the three positions that were open when I applied. There might be more than this available to work-campers that were already filled, I’ll ask around when I start for more info:

(Descriptions and videos come from the official website)

Helper and Sample Taker: (This is what I was hired for in 2017)
Collects beet samples and assists Pile Operator in cleaning. Helper will also communicate with drivers to ensure safe and accurate unloading of trucks. Video here.

Pile Operator:
Maneuvers pile control switches, orchestrates repair work and supervises and assists in the clean up of daily operations. Video here.

Skidsteer Operator:
Operates skidsteer. Must be able to lift 50lbs. Audio here.

Job Requirements

No schooling or experience is necessary for the Helper job, equipment operator positions do require certifications and/or experience. For all positions you do need to be authorized to work legally in the US and be able to read and comprehend English.

The company provides safety helmets, reflective vests, goggles, and ear protection. You’re responsible for:

  • Weather-appropriate clothes (including gloves). Most positions take place outdoors and temperatures during work hours are usually in the 40’s and 50’s. You could have to work in the rain or even snow. Layers are recommended, don’t wear nice stuff as everything will get muddy and greasy.
  • Boots with tread. Hiking boots or work boots okay. No sneakers, rubber boots, sandals.

Locations

There are 45 sugar beet receiving stations, located through the Red River Valley in western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota, and Sidney, Montana (the Montana location is technically Sidney Sugars, which was bought by ASCC). In the application you can request Red River Valley or Montana, but no more specific than that. The exact station you’re assigned to depends entirely on staffing needs, but couples will be assigned to the same station and shift.

In 2017 I was assigned to the station in Drayton, ND and my campground is in Grafton, ND. More on campgrounds in the Benefits section.

Hours, Season length, and Pay

There is a day shift that works 7am to 7 pm, and a night shift that works 8 pm to 8 am. You can request days in your application, but it is not guaranteed. Workers get 3-4 breaks per shift of about 15 minutes, plus a lunch break

All shifts work 7 days a week until the harvest is done – typically 10-14 days. But work is conditional on the weather. When the temperature gets to 65 degrees and above the beets become at risk for rot when sitting in piles, so they aren’t harvested and the work day may be shortened or canceled. So really the season is more like three or less commonly four weeks. The 2017 harvest is expected to be record-breaking with a 14-day season.

Start dates also depend on weather. In 2017 the start date is October 1st, and work-campers are arriving on September 26th, which seems typical. A representative lets work-campers know in July or August when to arrive and when the season will start.

Pay is dependent on position and possibly location. I’m getting paid $13.25/hr as a Helper at Drayton.

Monday-Friday it’s time-and-a-half for everything over eight hours, Saturday is all time-and-a half and Sunday is time-and-a-half or double time depending on location. I’ve heard that if a work day is canceled due to weather that workers still get paid some small amount, but don’t know for sure and will have to report back after I’ve started.

Workers get paid every other week on Friday. You can enroll for direct deposit, or receive a Global Cash Card.

Benefits

  • A free, full-hookup site (minus propane) is included in the work agreement. If your campground does not have sewer hookups, a honey wagon service is provided twice a week free of charge.
  • Unlike Amazon, work-campers do not get a list of campgrounds to choose from but are assigned one when they’re assigned to a location. I’m thinking the closest campgrounds are filled first. I applied late and was assigned to Grafton Campground in Grafton, ND, which is about 24 miles from Drayton proper. It does have full hookups and a shower house, looks nice enough and has good reviews.
  • If you complete the harvest, you receive 5% of your gross wages as a bonus.
  • Referring others to work the beet harvest grants some sort of a paid reward, but I’m not sure how much it is yet.

Reality Check

ASCC recommends stocking up on groceries, propane, medications, having mail sent, and doing laundry before the start of the harvest, as the long working hours are not very conducive to these activities and days off are not guaranteed. I wouldn’t expect to do much sightseeing while working the beet harvest either as I imagine rather like Amazon you’ll be too tired to do much when not working.

The Hiring Process

The online application can be found here. It took me about fifteen minutes to complete, with the majority of time going to the work history field. There is also a phone number on that page you can contact if you have any questions or issues. I’m pretty sure that as of the time of this posting all 2017 positions are filled, but they’re already looking for 2018. As mentioned above, I think campground assignments are based on how early you apply, with early applicants getting the closest ones, so if that’s important to you apply early.

After submitting my application I got a response back a week later requesting a phone interview.

The interview was about twenty minutes long and was more a declaration of what the job entailed and to make sure I knew how demanding it was than a real assessment of my skills. The interviewer went over the things I’ve covered in this article (wage, hours, location, season start, clothing needed, etc.) and then asked if I was still interested. I said yes and was called back a couple weeks after that with a verbal offer and a location.

Onboarding

It sounds like all paperwork and onboarding is handed once you arrive. I received an e-mail the day I accepted the job offer that stated I’m to arrive at my campground on September 26th, and report to the community center in Drayton the next morning for paperwork. Training also happens before the official season start.

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Okay, that covers it! Expect more info after I’ve arrived and know better what’s going on.

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24 Responses to About the Sugar Beet Harvest

  1. Marilyn September 19, 2017 at 6:45 pm #

    Great informative write up. Good luck. I know you can do it after your hike in MN.

    Are you going to work at Amazon this fall?

    • Becky September 20, 2017 at 11:17 am #

      Not this year Marilyn. Thanks.

  2. Ron September 19, 2017 at 8:40 pm #

    Very interesting, Thanks for sharing. I wouldn’t worry about missing sightseeing. not much to see in the area besides fields. Gonna be hard work but you can do it. Are you going to do any time at Amazon afterward?

    • Becky September 20, 2017 at 11:18 am #

      You’re welcome Ron.

      Not this year.

  3. Dave September 19, 2017 at 9:13 pm #

    I’ve heard that sugar beets are a very lucrative cash crop. I believe that beet sugar is used for generics and cane sugar is used for the name brands like C&H and Dominos. I recall visiting an ASCC plant in Western MN a few years ago somewhere between Moorhead and Grand Forks. They were having a major labor dispute at the time. Life long workers struck for better wages and were replaced with transients mostly from the Southern US who came north for better wages. The new workers were in a state of culture shock trying to adjust to MN after their lives in AL, MS , TN etc. The strikers were in a state of stressful depression with their middle class life style in jeopardy. It was an all round sad situation and I don’t know if or how it was ever resolved. I hadn’t thought about it again until you mentioned the beet harvest.
    Have been enjoying your vids- especially the visit to Hunting Island.

    • Becky September 20, 2017 at 11:21 am #

      I had heard that beet sugar is made similar to cane sugar but there are a couple uses for which cane sugar is better suited, so the generic vs. name brand thing makes sense.

      As for the strikes, I’ve heard nothing of that, I guess I’ll see when I arrive. I’m glad you’re enjoying my videos.

  4. marijka September 19, 2017 at 10:51 pm #

    Wow, eat your Wheaties! 🙂 Seriously, sounds like a good hard push with a great payoff, so good luck up there. I learn such interesting things on your blog!

    • Becky September 20, 2017 at 11:22 am #

      Thanks Marijka. There are a lot of unique opportunities for RVers to make money, it’s been interesting trying them all.

  5. JuDee Janowitz September 20, 2017 at 10:46 am #

    Thanks for sharing. My father retired from Amalgamated Sugar Factory in Nampa, ID. I am often reminded of him (he passed in 2006) from the smells of the factory and then every year starting, well now, the numerous beet hauling trucks that pass by my house continually throughout the campaign. You mentioned other states that hire work campers. I wonder if Idaho does?
    I enjoy your posts. I have been preparing for way too long now to start my full timing. It’s near though, very near.
    Good luck
    Stay healthy and safe!

    • Becky September 20, 2017 at 11:23 am #

      I haven’t heard that any of the beet companies in Idaho hire work-campers specifically, but that doesn’t mean that a person couldn’t get hired as a regular seasonal and pay for their own site.

      Best of luck to you!

  6. Donna September 20, 2017 at 11:50 am #

    Thanks for wonderful info, Becky! I was very curious what your work was going to be like for the sugar beet harvest. It will be interesting to hear how autumn is in North Dakota. Good luck!

    • Becky September 21, 2017 at 6:13 pm #

      Thanks Donna! I reckon it’ll be rather cold, but hopefully not Kansas-in-December cold! I could do without any ice or snow.

  7. Rene Kipp September 20, 2017 at 12:03 pm #

    My friends worked the beet harvest last year. I believe they were both helpers. This year they are campground hosts at the Sidney campground where the workers are staying. It’s hard work, but I’m sure you’ll do fine 🙂
    Rene Kipp recently posted..Solvang, Family Time & RainierMy Profile

    • Becky September 21, 2017 at 6:14 pm #

      It’ll be something new to write about at the very least!

  8. Rob September 20, 2017 at 5:27 pm #

    If you sign up late & they put you on a waiting list, it’s a real waiting list & they go to it.
    I guess people quiting after the first few days is not unusual.

    Make sure your boots fit cause 12 hours is a long time!

    • Becky September 21, 2017 at 6:28 pm #

      Yep! Similar to peak season at Amazon, although the longest days got there was 11 hours.

  9. Dave September 20, 2017 at 5:48 pm #

    I think Clarke and Elaine (http://whatsnewell.blogspot.com/) did this a few years ago, and Clarke said they had to toss clothing away after, and recommend getting clothing from a thrift store to work in…just a thought. Not sure that Elaine got as dirty as Clarke.

    • Becky September 21, 2017 at 6:29 pm #

      I spoke to a couple who did it last year who said the same thing Dave. All my clothing comes from thrift stores so I’m set, haha.

  10. Ken Curry September 21, 2017 at 9:29 am #

    Great way to earn some extra $$
    We’re in Box Elder SD and just met a couple heading to Sidney for their jobs at the harvest.
    They got us excited and we’re sending in our app for next year!
    Good luck, Becky and thanks for the blog!

    • Becky September 21, 2017 at 6:31 pm #

      Thanks Ken, should be an interesting couple weeks!

  11. Kenneth David Levad September 28, 2017 at 1:24 pm #

    My wife and I worked the last two Octobers in Drayton. The work is long and tiring, but it is do-able, and the payoff has been great for us. I would recommend trying to get a campsite at the Drayton campground if you are going to be working at the Drayton yard. The commute to and from Grafton would not be enjoyable after working a twelve hour shift on the slab. We stayed in the Drayton campground, and it is a five minute commute to the yard. The campground itself is nothing great, but it has full hookups and is quiet. The less commute you have to make, the better! Have fun!

    • Kenneth David Levad September 28, 2017 at 1:31 pm #

      By the way, there have always been un-used camping spots at the Drayton campground. I imagine it would not be too difficult to switch locations if you talk to the people at your orientation. They seem to try to accommodate the campers as best they can.

    • Becky September 29, 2017 at 12:50 pm #

      They ended up getting me in the Grafton site so I’m good, but thanks!

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