February 28, 2024

Closing of Texas’ last sugar mill will affect 101 company drivers


Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers Inc. recently announced it is closing after 51 years in business, citing dwindling water for irrigation and an ongoing dispute with Mexico over water supplies.

The closure will result in layoffs of 435 employees, including 101 company truck drivers, for the sugar-growing operation and mill based in Santa Rosa, Texas. The mill’s closure will be finalized by April 29. 

“This is to advise Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers Inc., will permanently close its plant … due to a significant downturn in business resulting directly from the excessive heat and shortage of irrigation water affecting the Rio Grande Valley,” company officials said in a notice released Wednesday by the Texas Workforce Commission. 

Santa Rosa is a small town about 247 miles south of San Antonio.

Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers Inc. was a member-owned cooperative of more than 125 farmers that utilized more than 40,000 acres of South Texas farmland in the cultivation of sugarcane each year.

Board members for Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers initially announced the mill’s shutdown in February, blaming drought conditions that have plagued Texas in recent years, as well as a long-running dispute with Mexico over water supplies.

“Agriculture in the Rio Grande Valley depends on adequate and reliable irrigation water deliveries,” the company said in a news release. “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 U.S. and Mexico that governs water sharing between the two nations on the Colorado River and the Lower Rio Grande.”

The mill produced more than 1.5 million tons of sugarcane per year, including 160,000 tons of raw sugar and 60,000 tons of blackstrap molasses, the company said. The mill also accounted for up to 11% of total gross revenues produced in the Rio Grande Valley’s agricultural sector every year.

The raw sugar was harvested from October to April and then transported by barge to Louisiana for refining via the Port of Harlingen in Harlingen, Texas, according to a 2022 study from Texas A&M University. The molasses from the mill was also sold for cattle feed.

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