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.
Maneuvers pile control switches, orchestrates repair work and supervises and assists in the clean up of daily operations. Video here.
Operates skidsteer. Must be able to lift 50lbs. Audio here.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.