With the steady stream of tractor lights illuminating acres upon acres of fields after dusk and trucks buzzing up and down the rural roads in the Red River Valley, one thing is clear: It’s officially sugarbeet harvest season.
While the parades of equipment and the influx of occupants in the region make it quite obvious that it’s time to get the beets out of the ground, there is another tell-tale sign: Local businesses keep their midnight oil burning. Many of these businesses keep their doors open long after the sun goes down, helping those sugarbeet producers and workers fix broken equipment, deliver a crucial part or even provide a space for a much-needed coffee break.
It may normally take a village, but in the nation's largest sugarbeet growing region it takes a Valley to get through a smooth and successful sugarbeet harvest season.
Best of both worlds
Christian Kiel knows the pressures of sugarbeet harvest all too well. Growing up in the industry, he is well-versed in the crop. But unlike some sugarbeet growers, he also understands the pressures of being a business owner during the harvest season.
“We’re kinda in the heart of it. We got great farmers up and down the valley,” Kiel said. “In Crookston here, we’re kinda in the center of it all.”
Kiel Innovation Corporation stays open well after the sun goes down, making sure that they can go up and down the valley at a moment’s notice to fix broken equipment.
“For me, it's keeping the customer happy and making sure that the customer is up and running. We have to get these beets out in a timely fashion, and we strive to make that happen for these guys,” Kiel said.
Kiel farms about 700 acres of sugarbeets with his wife, children and parents. In the beginning of his time in Kiel Innovation, when a customer had a breakdown that needed attention during harvest, his father would jump in the harvester and replace Christian behind the wheel. Christian would then take off to the customer’s acres and fix their equipment. Today, the Kiels have a crew to help them out with harvest, allowing Christian to focus on repairing machinery during harvest season.
“We run 24/7 just like everybody else,” Kiel said. ”I know how important it is to keep these machines running and to keep everyone moving along and to get the harvest done.”
Burning the midnight oil
Norman County Implement also keeps their midnight oil burning during the sugarbeet campaign. Staffed with two crews that work in 12-hour shifts, they make sure there's always someone with a friendly smile standing behind their counters, no matter the time.
"They do call me in the middle of the night if they have a break down, and I do go out and fix it. This morning I probably have had 25 phone calls in the last three hours,” he said. “I thrive on it.”
Keith Kaste has been with Norman County Implement since 1985 and has seen his fair share of sugarbeet harvest seasons and breakdowns. He too works the graveyard shift, 7 p.m. through 7 a.m. He attests to how important it is that they keep their doors open and sees many producers throughout the night that need assistance. Kaste noted that every second counts during the non-stop harvest endeavor, and staying open allows farmers to get their part or equipment fixed as soon as it happens.
For Chuck Kroshus, owner of Norman County Implement, staying open is important to the business and builds trust with his customer base. Kroshus stays in close contact with American Crystal Sugar so he knows when the piling plants will be operating. While it can be a tiring time, Kroshus knows his business plays an important role in the industry and is honored to help those getting the beets out of the ground.
Pull up a chair
“To come in the middle of the night and either get some hot coffee or something to eat is important, just a break from the night. They’re running a lot of hours,” Potucek said.
Growing up on a farm himself, Potucek is well-aware how stressful a time harvest can be and is happy to alleviate some of that stress any way he can.
“When you get to this time of the year, it’s go. I remember growing up on the farm and you got that window of trying to get things in,” Potucek said. “Once you go it’s full speed ahead.”
But the industry produces more than just sugar.
According to findings by the University of Minnesota Extension, Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative, located in southwestern Minnesota, alone generated an estimated $817.8 million in economic activity in the state in 2017, including $227.9 million in labor income.
According to Hanson, more often than not you will find someone who has been in the industry when traveling up and down the region.
“It’s amazing how many people in town you talk to that have either worked for the industry. Worked at the pile, worked for the farmers — it brings everyone together. It’s kinda a neat time,” he said.
Potucek agrees with Hanson, noting how important the industry is to the region, making his long hours well worth it.
“Everybody is dependent. It affects them dramatically,” Potucek said. “If you talk to anybody in the community, the common theme is, agriculture is very important here and the sugarbeets are another part of the agriculture that’s really important”
While the crop no doubt is a valuable asset to the Red River Valley, it also brings neighbors closer together.
“It’s amazing. We’re a big family. Up and down the valley we always take care of each other,” Kiel said.