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.”
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.
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.
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.