The “Workamper” Beet Harvest Experience
By Tom Newcomb, Agronomy Manager, Drayton Factory
Every fall in the Red River Valley a major transformation takes place with loaded beet trucks and harvesting equipment seen virtually everywhere on roadways and fields. The economic importance of the sugar beet harvest to the region is enormous and could not be accomplished without the help of seasonal employees to deliver the crop from the farm to American Crystal’s 36 receiving stations. Because of the very low 3% unemployment in the Red River Valley it became increasingly difficult each year to find seasonal workers to help pile the delivered truck loads at the receiving stations throughout the valley, not to speak of the hundreds of truck drivers required on the farm. Years ago this task fell on the shoulders of the American Crystal Agricultural Staff who found local help by recruiting at colleges, military bases, or other locations whereby individuals would work weekends or take vacation for the several week run. Today most all of American Crystal piling site employees are supplied by Express Employment Professionals who undertake the daunting task of finding 1,250 temporary employees to fill the positions as piler operators, skid steer and loader operators, foreman and ground crew. American Crystal Sugar Company partnered with Express because of their resources and networking ability to locate folks all across the country who might be interested in this line of work and how the trend towards hiring Workampers became a reality.
So who makes up this group we call Workampers? The general public’s initial view is that these are all retired folks who live and travel in RV’s, spending most of their time in Arizona or Florida during the winter months. No doubt there are those in that category; however, national demographics point out that the average age of Workampers is decreasing and is between 50-55 yrs. of age. Many travel across the country year round seeking work with their families while living in RV sites near or at each work location. Some have sold their homes and property to make investments in very comfortable and livable homes on wheels. Although they have chosen the nomadic lifestyle, they still manage to stay connected through various internet sites which advertise job openings which cater specifically to the Workamper group. Many employers offer to pay for the campsite location as further enticement to have a reliable employee; this is the case for Express employees who commit to work with American Crystal. They come from just about every State in the union, as far as Alaska, and bring with them various talents such as equipment operators, electrical and mechanical knowledge, supervisory skills and a generally outstanding work ethic. Given the shortages of local part time help within the Red River Valley at the present time, we would experience serious time delays with harvest operations which could have a ripple effect on the overall quality of the stored crop if not for the amount of Workampers that help us today. Our thanks go out to the Workamper community and Express Employment Professionals for their time and commitment. We hope they’ve enjoyed an “unbeetable experience” while in the sugar beet country of the Red River Valley of the North.