Farmers, American Crystal Sugar see shortage of harvest workers
Lester Hall, of Beaumont, Texas, and Bill Shearer, of Grand Junction, Mich., are old friends who only see each other about one month a year. Hall and Shearer spend September and October working for the American Crystal Sugar in East Grand Forks, ...
Lester Hall, of Beaumont, Texas, and Bill Shearer, of Grand Junction, Mich., are old friends who only see each other about one month a year.
Hall and Shearer spend September and October working for the American Crystal Sugar in East Grand Forks, Minn., during the sugar beet harvest. They're two of many out-of-state workers who come to the Red River Valley during the harvest for American Crystal and its growers.
But the employers say finding harvest help like Hall and Shearer has become a bigger challenge with growing competition for workers around the region.
Dan Gowan, director of agriculture for American Crystal, said one obstacle to finding help during harvest is commercial developments in Red River Valley attracting laborers. Many of the local hourly workers they usually hire during the harvest season have taken jobs at Target, Walmart and retail stores that have been built in the area in recent years.
And while American Crystal is facing shortages in the available workforce, farmers are also facing a difficult time recruiting workers.
Jared Sands, chairman of the East Grand Forks District of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association, said farms throughout the valley have been having a hard time finding truck drivers, although he was able to fill the 10 positions he hires for every year during the harvest.
Sands' theory is that many of the drivers have opted to instead work in western North Dakota in the oil fields.
"(The valley) needs a lot of trucks and there is a shortage," he said. "We've been raising the pay per hour," adding that it has gotten up to $25 an hour while it was in the mid-teens in past years.
With the scarcity of local workers, Gowan said American Crystal has brought in a growing number of workers who camp while working in the East Grand Forks sugar factory during the harvest season.
The first year it brought in campers, there were 78. Last year there were 326, the highest the company had ever had.
This year, it has already hired 450 people from outside of the area to avoid worker shortages.
The company also has taken out more advertisements and radio spots and uses Express Employment Professionals -- an agency it contracts with to hire 2,000 people to eventually fill about 1,250 hourly positions for the harvest.
Workers who return year after year are vital to the harvest season, Sands said. He said some of the workers coming to work on his family farm in Alvarado, Minn., have been coming for 25 or 30 years.
Shearer, 70, and Hall, 67, look forward to the harvest season here because it allows them to do something different from the other small jobs they hold during retirement. They both drive trucks in their home states, but decided to not drive trucks here to mix up their schedules.
Neither of them plans on stopping anytime soon.
"I'll keep working until I fall over," Hall said.
Shearer said it's hard to beat the combination of seeing friends and making money.
"It's hard to say no when people keep shoving money at you," he said. "It's almost like coming to a family reunion up here because you meet so many friends."