Complicated process turns cane into raw sugar at Cora Tex in White Castle

Crushed and shredded sugar cane is transported by conveyor belt to continue the raw sugar processing.

Once the sugar cane has been delivered to Cora Texas Manufacturing Company and all the juice extracted from it, the plant even squeezes the inevitable mud that comes in with it to get the highest yield possible.

The process is done by running the mud over huge barrel like containers that rotate against rollers to press the last of the juice into the core of the barrels through a fine screen.

That juice is then vacuumed out of the barrels to join the rest of the juice in the process. The sugarless mud is then pumped to some 700 acres of ponds on the sugar mill’s property.

All of the juice is then pumped into tanks where lime is added to neutralize it, then heated before being clarified to settle the mud out of it, said general manager Buckley Kessler.

“Then the clear juice is siphoned off of that to go to the evaporators,” he continued, then to vacuum pans “where it’s actually crystallized into sugar.”

From there, the mixture goes into centrifugal tanks where the liquid is cooked again and the sugar goes into the warehouse or to the refinery to be converted into white sugar.

“We ship out about a million pounds of sugar a day and we make about four and a half million pounds every day,” Kessler said. “In addition to the sugar, we’re making about 90,000 gallons of molasses a day.”

The process of converting cane into sugar hasn’t changed much since it was first invented.

“It’s an old process,” Kessler said. “It hasn’t changed a whole lot over the years, the equipment has gotten a whole lot better.”

Buckley is the third generation of the Kessler family to own and operated the sugar mill, which the family purchased it in the early 1900s.

The fourth generation, his sons-- Brad and Scott – and a cousin, Charlie Schudmak, are already knee deep in the operation and he hopes the mill continues to stay in the family for generations to come. The next generation of the Kessler family are his two granddaughter, now 9 and 6.

“There hasn’t been a woman run this company yet, but who knows,” he said, but added it wouldn’t be any time soon that he’d be stepping away from the operation.

“This is my 43rd grind,” Kessler said, admitting he has no plans for retirement. “I’d be bored out of my mind. You can only hunt and fish so much.”

His father had hoped Buckley would decide to go into a different field, anything but running the sugar mill.

Kessler went to LSU and Nicholls State University an earned a degree in business, seemingly to go along with his father’s wishes and go into something else.

He said his father’s logic was based on the large number of sugar mills in south Louisiana at the time and the small scale of Cora Tex.

“We were such a small factory back then,” Kessler said. “There were over 40 mills in the state and we were one of the smallest.”

Cora Tex seems to have beaten the war of attrition among sugar mills and is now only one of 11 in Louisiana and seems destined for a bright future. It certainly would seem new competition is unlikely.

“To build a factory like this today, you’d have to spend about $500 million, so there’s no way you could start a mill like this from scratch and pay for it,” Kessler said.