The rains came and the rains stayed.
For sugar cane farmers, that meant getting cane out of the fields was challenging at best and nearly impossible in a worst-case scenario.
At Cora Texas Manufacturing Company, general manager Buckley Kessler reported the sugar mill south of White Castle received 18.9 inches of rain since the grind began 104 days ago.
“In some places, rainfall totals were even higher,” he continued. “It’s making life tough for the farmers and a little more challenging at the mill.”
“It’s unfortunate that the farmers are having to harvest under these conditions,” Kessler said.
Just Sunday, Kessler finished what was his 43rd sugar harvest and he said as bad as this year’s rain was—and the mud it created—as it was in 2002, when Cora Tex finished its grinding season after a similar period of time when 32 inches of rain fell at the sugar mill.
He said that as of last Wednesday, the mill was producing about 235 pounds of sugar and 165 pounds of sugar for each ton of raw cane it handled.
“We’re making almost as much sugar as we’re taking in mud,” Kessler said, but he quickly added that despite the challenges the mud created, this year will still be a great year for sugar production in Iberville Parish.
“The sugar content is still phenomenal,” he said, adding this year’s crop will likely rival last year’s near record crop. “The mill’s average will be about 9,600 pounds of sugar produced from every acre harvested.”
“So the sugar’s there,” Kessler said. “…We have a pretty good idea of how much cane is left in the field and we know at what rate we’re running, so we know we’ll be finished by Sunday.”
“Right now we have about 430 million pounds of sugar made and we should finish at about 430 tons,” he continued.
And while it’s been tough to get the cane out of the fields because of the mud, the farmers are equipped to handle it.
Many have better tractors with more horsepower than when they battled the mud in 2002 and Cora Tex, which leases out its own trucks to get the harvest to the mill, has backhoes and like some of the farmers, the sugar mill also has a bulldozer for dire circumstances.
Victoria Cardona, the field manager at Cora Tex, said this year’s crop has been better than she expected.
“I was expecting a good year like we had last year but I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as it’s been,” she said. “In 2017, we had better sugar but we’re not going to be far off from that in tons of sugar per acre this year.”
“I think it will be one of the biggest crops ever, one that everyone will remember,” Cardona continued, but she also said the mud “makes it really hard to work in the fields.”
“I think overall, our mill is doing a really good job,” she said. “We’re going to be the second mill to finish in the state, so we’re ahead of most of the other sugar mills in the state.”