Sugar mill manager says mill is running full tilt, agrees with farmers’ assessment of high yield this season

TOMMY COMEAUX by tcomeaux@postsouth
Cora Texas sugar mill is running 24/7 now that the grind has started and its manager expects this to be a good year for sugar cane farmers.

The trucks full of sugar cane just keep pouring into the Cora Texas Manufacturing and the mill keeps churning that cane into raw sugar.

The general manager at Cora Tex, as the sugar mill is commonly known, agrees with the farmers this year’s sugar cane crop is going to be a good one.

“Our total raw sugar output should be about 375 to 380 million pounds and our total molasses will be between eight and nine million gallons,” said Buckley “Buck” Kessler.

The amount of raw cane Cora Tex is expected to take in this year is a phenomenal number.

“Our estimate is that we’re going to end the season after taking in close to 1,750,000 total tons of cane,” Kessler said.

While historically, the grind, as those familiar with the industry call the sugar cane harvest, is over and done with by Christmas, he said, “It’s probably be the first of the year, give or take a few days, this before we’re done with this year’s crop.”

“We’re checking in about 700 loads a day and we’re making about four and a half million pounds of sugar a day and about 80,000 gallons of molasses daily,” Kessler said. “And we’re shipping out over a million pounds of sugar a day.”

“We’re maintaining a rate of between 18,000 and 19,000 tons of cane every day now,” he continued. “Sugar yields are good. The first week, our overall average was 31 tons of cane a day.”

“We’re at 33 and a third tons of cane daily right now,” Kessler said. “We’ve had years when we were fortunate to finish at that daily tonnage.”

“We’re already getting a about 8,000 pounds of sugar per acre and in years past, that would be a good place to finish,” he continued. “We’re looking at being between 125,000 tons each week before the grind is over.”

“We finished up last year making 256 pounds of sugar from each acre of cane,” Kessler said. “If the weather holds – and we’ve already dodged two hurricanes this season – we could be looking at an overall average that’s likely going to meet that level.”

All this sugar cane comes from almost 50 farms that do business with Cora Tex with 357 plant-owned cane trucks, he said.

The Kessler family has been in the sugar grinding business since long before the generation operating it now were born.

“My family got involved in the business in 1919 when we bought the Cora Plantation and its mill,” Kessler said. “That mill burned down on Jan. 1, 1927, and that’s when my family got involved with the Texas mill.

Located in White Castle, the sugar mill combines the names of the two sugar mills into Cora Texas, the result of the Kessler family buying out the Texas Sugar Mill in 1948. “We’ve been expanding the plant ever since,” Kessler said.

Grinding sugar cane into raw cane is about all Kessler has ever done, save for the years he spend attending college at McNeese State University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business.

While the degree is a logical choice for him to take over the mill’s management when the time came, his father tried to steer him away from what was at the time an unstable business, the economy of scale changed that dramatically in just a few years.

“It wasn’t the business my father was pointing me to because we were a very small factory at the time,” Kessler said.

While there were 40-plus sugar mills in Louisiana when Kessler was a teenager, he remembered, the state is down to 11. Cora Tex is the second largest, he continued.