Monday, February 6, 2023


A different side of the sugarbeet harvest: This one is a little sweeter

By Kate Doherty
I can report from first-hand experience how we were enlightened as to where our table sugar comes from. My spouse and I worked last year’s sugarbeet harvest in Hillsboro and Wheatland/Casselton, North Dakota. We were spending time in Sundance, Wyoming, and Badlands when we ran into a couple who were leaving the next day to their sixth sugarbeet harvest in Grand Forks, North Dakota. After chatting with them, we thought it might be a fun experience. And earning a few extra bucks never hurts.

Working the harvest

We worked a variety of jobs for American Crystal Sugar in Hillsboro, North Dakota: boom loader, sampler, piler operator and truck guide. Despite the chilly weather, it was a short-term experience we will not forget. For us, the best part was yet to come. We met a work camper who said, “Why work hard? There’s a farmer I know who needs drivers hauling his beets to the pilers.” My spouse said, “I don’t have a CDL.” He laughed, “All DOT rules are suspended for North Dakota and Minnesota during harvest. Even teens drive.”

This is one of our trips for the Schatzke’s, a RRVSGA farmer grower.

Many growers need part-time drivers.

This year, there’s a new twist to part-time harvest work in the Red River Valley of eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota. According to Harrison Weber, Executive Director of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association, many of the 2700+ farmers, like the Schatzkes who we hauled sugarbeets for, will be hiring folks to haul sugarbeets from the farm to the pilers. This is a chance to meet and drive directly for the farmer. No middleman. No outside work. Red River Valley farmers will be posting more driving jobs on their growers’ association website as summer progresses.

One of many trips hauling sugarbeets.

This is drastically different than working for a big company among several folks doing the same job(s). This opportunity affords you a way to learn about the trials and tribulations farmers face in bringing food to our dinner table. We enjoyed everyone we interfaced with, especially Jason and Tanya Schatzke of the Wheatland, North Dakota, area. My spouse and I hauled sugarbeets to pilers on twelve-hour shifts for the Schatzkes. No heavy work, no long hours standing – just driving an 18-wheeler.

Drive slow. Drive straight. It’s easy.

If you can drive slow and straight, this is easy pickins!

The only caveat is being able to keep pace with the “Ferris wheel” as it drops sugarbeets into the back of the truck you are driving. In other words, being a “wingman,” effectively learning the system. The tractor driver pulling the Ferris wheel is your guide, and so are the lighted arrows. It only takes a few minutes to load the truck and you’re off the field to the piler. And, you get to remain inside if its chilly outside. We really enjoyed meeting the Schatzkes, the largest sugarbeet grower in that region. It was an eye-opener to learn how costly it is to be a farmer today, despite their high-tech farming equipment.

The driving job listing website

If you are interested, more jobs will be posted each week by individual farmers/growers. Any questions not answered on the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association website, you may call their office at: 701-239-4151.

We thoroughly enjoyed the light work and meeting so many nice farmers! It’s an enlightening experience.



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1 year ago

Brian (AdventureVanMan) on YouTube has an amazing video with drone shots of his time working the sugar beet harvest. It’s really something to see.

1 year ago

What gives me the willies is people who say you do not need a CDL to drive a truck. O M G I drive a school bus and I see people who think they can drive those huge class A and have no clue. Have you seen those RV shows? You get what you deserve if you do not take time to really learn how to drive a class A semi or class B straight truck or school bus. I have a CDL and the thought of a teenager driving a truck? Suicide but it’s on them. I can drive one of them and if the truck is AC? I will drive but you better pay well or I won’t come and I won’t be doing a 12 hour shift. But I can drive to keep up with that unloader. I am heading to Acadia next year and they want CDL drivers with good pay. Trust you me the above and what they are willing to suspend to get workers? It’s on them and unless safety is a factor? Won’t see me working there. IMO not yours.

Richard Carlson
1 year ago

As so many “workcamper” jobs, their ads show absolutely no pay range or (if any) benefits. Can you give some kind of a range?

1 year ago
Reply to  Kate Doherty

If you have a CDL and you have a class A or B or both you can drive as a school bus driver that have privatized for almost 22 an hour OR you can drive for the national park system for almost 30. I was head hunted while vacationing in Bryce Canyon Escalante Staircase during a tour. Or a private one for 16. I am going with a private company in Maine next year to drive for them. CDL class B license with a passenger and air brake and school bus. But because I am leaving the school bus realm that will be dropped. The rest kept. Can’t wait. So your choice.

A. G.
1 year ago

A small inaccuracy. CDL rules are not “suspended” during harvest. The FMCSA (Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration) has specific rules allowing states to opt out of CDL requirements in certain agricultural operations. I believe most, if not all, states have taken advantage of these opt out rules. I have driven semis hauling agricultural products in six different states without a CDL using the listed exemptions.

For an overview see this site.

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