Last sugar cane grower in Texas to close

Last sugar cane grower in Texas to close

SANTA ROSA, TEXAS — The last remaining sugar cane grower and processor in Texas will shut down, announcing that the recently completed 2023 harvest and milling season will be its last.

The board of directors of Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers, Inc. (RGVSG) said Feb. 22 that it will cease operations after 51 years of continuously growing and processing sugar cane. It was the last remaining sugar operation in Texas after the Holly Sugar Corp. sugar beet plant in Hereford, Texas, closed in 1997. The board cited the lack of a reliable irrigation water supply related to a long-running dispute with Mexico as a primary reason for the shutdown.

Texas 2023-24 cane sugar production was an estimated 44,000 tons, raw value, down 42% from 76,000 tons the prior year and down 65% from 124,000 tons in 2021-22, with production as high as 169,000 tons as recently as 2017-18, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Texas growers produced 432,000 tons of sugar cane from 18,800 acres during the 2023 season, the USDA said in its annual Crop Production report. RGVSG included more than 100 local growers and 40,000 acres with the cane mill employing more than 500 full-time and seasonal workers annually at times in the past, the company said.

“For over 30 years, farmers in South Texas have been battling with Mexico’s failure to comply with the provisions of the 1944 Water Treaty between the US and Mexico that governs water sharing between the two nations on the Colorado River and the Lower Rio Grande,” the board said. “For over 25 years, the US State Department’s unwillingness to prioritize the citizens and agricultural producers of South Texas has led to numerous water shortages in our area. Despite the valiant efforts of the US Section of the International Boundary & Water Commission, without the US State Department’s support, all attempts to negotiate timely water releases from Mexico have failed. Despite our growers’ deep desire to continue this legacy for future generations, without reliable supplies of irrigation water and the necessary crop insurance provisions and administrative guidelines to maintain acres, RGVSG has no choice but to close its doors.”

Sean Brasher, president and chief executive officer of RGVSG, added, “As we wind down our operations, we will do everything possible to assist our employees and their families during this transition. I would also like to thank the members of Congress who fought for us.”

Only two states, Louisiana and Florida, continue to grow sugar cane in the United States. The US Department of Agriculture forecasts Louisiana’s 2023-24 cane sugar production at 1,935,000 tons and Florida’s at 2,045,000 tons. Hawaiian sugar cane and cane sugar production shut down after the 2016-17 season as farmland became too expensive to maintain amid encroaching suburban sprawl. Mexico is the major sugar exporter to the United States, although production and shipments the past two years have been sharply curtailed by drought. The USDA forecasts US imports of sugar from Mexico at 799,000 tons in 2023-24, down 31% from 1,156,000 tons in 2022-23 and down 42% from 1,379,000 tons in 2021-22.