Sugar Beet Harvest – 2018 -Culbertson, Montana

Sugar Beet Harvest – 2018 -Culbertson, Montana

This chapter in our story finds us in lovely Culbertson Montana boasting a population of just over 792 people. It is also the home of what are arguably the coldest toilet seats in North America if not, the world.  We came here for the 2018 Sugar Beet Harvest.

Just to fill in the blanks a little we finished up our contract at Yellowstone on 9/19/18 and hit the road for Culbertson. The earliest we could arrive at our RV site in Culbertson was Monday 9/24/18. We ended up spending a couple of nights in Billings and one night in Miles City. Both of these were places we’d never been and at least one of them we would probably never return to. I won’t say which one it is but it rhymes with fillings.

The Journey Begins!

We knew we may end up sitting around for a few days as the harvest typically doesn’t start until around October 1st. We also knew we could be working from 14 – 16 days straight. The shifts are 12 hours a day. Easy enough. During our short 3 hour orientation in the town of Sidney, MT and were told we would be doing an hour of training at the piling site the next morning at 9:00 a.m. sharp.

It turns out the training was about 15 minutes long and then we were full into it. We worked a full 10 hour shift that day and then 6 straight days after that. Then came the shut down, 5 straight days of calling in and being told “nope, not today”. Finally we got the news that it was time to go back to work. Three days later then another 2 day shutdown. Back to work for 1 day and shut down for 2.

This brings us to the present where we are on the 2nd day of our 3rd shutdown with about 8 more days of harvesting expected. At the Culbertson location we each (Julia and myself) get paid 4 hours each for every day that we are off.

*** This varies by location and there are several locations throughout the country.

So let’s break it all down:

Why do you get shut down?

There are several reasons that we get shut down and so far all of them have been related to weather. Sugar beets can only be harvested within certain temperature parameters and if the beets themselves get too cold or too hot then we have to shut down. The first shut down was due to about an inch of snow covering overnight and every other shutdown has been because of below freezing temperatures at night. We were told the beet harvest typically gets shut down this time of year due to high temperatures (I believe it’s over 70 degrees) but we got the abnormal year and have been working in some freezing ass temperatures.

Is the work hard?

The work itself is not very hard at all. You can expect to work 12 hour days and up to 16 days without any time off. The hardest thing about the job is the long hours and the oft-times inclement weather. We recommend wearing layers if you’re considering doing this job. Don’t forget to wear broken in work boots.

How did you get hired and what company do you work for?

We applied for our jobs at []( which is managed by Express Employment Professionals and in this case we are harvesting for the company Sidney Sugars.

So what did that look like as far as pay and living expenses?

The best way I can break it down is to give you our hourly wages and total it up by day.

*** Keep in mind that pay may vary based on location and the year in which you work.

* Julia is the Piler Operator and makes $14.50 an hour for the first 8 hours a day and $21.75 (time and a half) every hour worked after 8.

* I am a Ventilator/Oiler and am making $16.42 an hour and $24.63 for every hour over 8 hours.

We added it up as a couple to $30.92 an hour for straight time and $46.83 for time and a half. We are paid time and a half on weekend days.

* On a full 12 hour shift on any day Monday through Friday we make a total of $432.88.

* On a full 12 hour shift on a weekend day we make a total of $556.56.

Some locations pay double time all day Sunday and the last 4 hours of Saturdays. These locations do not pay you anything when you are shut down. We get paid 4 hours each for every day that we are shutdown. Weekend shutdown days are paid at 4 hours of time and a half. Considering we’ve had a total of 10 shut down days thus far we’ve made out pretty well. This breaks down to:

* Weekday shut down days we make a total of $123.68.

* Weekend shut down days we make a total of $$185.52.

Where are you staying?

We are staying at the Roosevelt County Fairground at no cost which has water and electric hook ups and they have a honey wagon which comes around to empty our black and gray tanks every Monday and Thursday.

So, in essence the only costs we are incurring are what we spend to feed ourselves. Culbertson is such a small town you could live here for a full year on one tank of gas.

I won’t add everything because I think you can get a fairly accurate reflection of the money we’re making here at the Sugar Beet Harvest. To date we have put in 7 full days of work, 2 days at 10 hours, 1 day at 7.5 hours and 10 shut down days. We expect to work 7-9 more days (non shut down) and then we’ll be out of here.

Where is @nickthetravelkid?

Nick is staying with our daughter Kristin in Colorado and is enjoying his time there.

Have you taken any pictures?

I thought you would never ask…

Julia is a piler operator.
One big piece of machinery.

In contrast, we stayed for three and a half months while workamping in Yellowstone National Park. While there we barely scratched the surface of everything we wanted to see and do. In a matter of minutes we were able to see about every square inch of Mayberry, er… Culbertson MT.


We have had an incredible experience with some decent money made along the way and we’ve met some great people. We still have another good full week of work during which time we will be DROPPIN DEM BEETS!

During our time off here in Culbertson MT we have managed to start up our blog site. If you like what we’ve got going on here then like us, follow us and subscribe at

Want to learn more about sugar beets? We know you do, so just click here —-> Sugar Beets.

Don’t forget to check out Julias post on how to prepare for a sugar beet harvest.  Sugar Beet Harvest Survival Kit.

In the following video I talk a little bit about our experience at the Sugar Beet Harvest. It’s also my first attempt at any significant video editing.

If you are interested in applying to the Sugar Beet Harvest let them know that Joe and Julia Breheny sent you.

Thanks for stopping by!


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