In Wahpeton, North Dakota, at the southern end of the Red River Valley, sit 100,000 acres of sugar beet farms known as the Minn-Dak Farmers’ Cooperative. The beets are turned into sugar, which is then shipped to grocery stores and food manufacturers around the country.
The process begins when ripe sugar beet plants are defoliated and cleaned. Then they are piled up at receiving stations, waiting to be transported to the factory by an International or Freightliner truck hauling an East MMX Flatbed Trailer.
Minn-Dak previously used a smaller 45-foot trailer with a hauling capacity of 80,000 pounds. After Minnesota passed a rule allowing trailers to haul up to 97,000 pounds under an agriculture commodities permit, the co-op decided to switch to 53-foot trailers in order to increase productivity. The trailers are specially spec’d for the job with the help of the co-op’s dealer, Wallwork Truck Center.
Hauling sugar beets on a flatbed may sound crazy, but these aren’t your standard flatbed trailers. The East MMX flatbed trailers, now totaling 19, are equipped with a metal cage to contain the sugar beets when they’re hauled from the stockpiles to the factory. A driver can typically haul seven loads per 12-hour shift when he or she is hauling from the farthest-out stockpiles, which are up to 30 miles away. When hauling from the closer piles, they can handle 13 loads per 12-hour shift. To carry the heavy loads, East worked with Minn-Dak to add control valves to operate a fully automatic lift on the fourth axle.
To unload at the factory, each trailer is driven onto the wet hopper, then tilted to the side to dump the sugar beets. To allow the flatbeds to tip, Darrell Oscarson, transportation supervisor for Minn-Dak, specs them with extra gussets over the axles. Because the tilting process puts pressure on the axle sides, which can lead to fatigue, the gussets run from the deck to the frame to provide more rigidity to the trailer to alleviate side pressure.
The beets roll off the trailer side when the mercury switch in an enclosed box engages as the trailer tilts sideways. Since trailers are exposed to temperatures down to 30 below zero, mercury switches were chosen for the controls. “They’ve got to be responsive with temperature extremes too. One day it may be minus 30, and the next it may be up to 40 degrees,” Oscarson says.
The new automatic switch saves two or three minutes per truckload, with Minn-Dak averaging 420 tons an hour or up to 340 loads per day. The process is repeated over and over, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, up to nine months out of the year.
Minn-Dak produces up to 3.5 million pounds of sugar every day, which is more than 2,000 pounds per minute. The process is completed when sugar is shipped to Minn-Dak’s food manufacturer customers in bulk or packaged form throughout North America.