2021 sugarcane harvest poses tough challenges

Staff Report

The global supply shortage has made life tougher for many industries, and the sugar industry is no exception.

The 2021 sugarcane harvest is in full swing at Cora Texas, but a supply shortage and fallout from Hurricane Ida have made this year’s harvest season more difficult.

Inability to get the needed parts to repair trucks has hampered the ongoing 2021 harvest season for Cora Texas Sugar Mill.

The slow delivery on parts has doubled the number of trucks out of service this year in comparison to previous harvest seasons, said Charlie Schudmak, chief operating officer for Cora Texas.

“It’s a strain on the farmers, because they don’t have an adequate number of trucks to get crops from the field, so it’s increasing labor costs,” he said. “We’re having to rent extra trucks to keep things running.”

To exacerbate the problem, tonnage is below average.

Cora Texas yields 1.7 million tons of sugarcane this year, a 10 percent drop from the 1.86-million-ton output one year ago.

The Category 4 storm that ravaged south Louisiana in late August put a damper on the yields for many sugar farmers.

“It’s not as bad in Iberville Parish, but the yields are 30 percent lower once you get south of Donaldsonville,” Schudmak said. “The more impact that people got from Ida, the worse the tonnage is.”

Cora Texas gets the bulk its sugar from Iberville, West Baton Rouge and Pointe Coupee parishes – areas that took a lesser hit than the parishes closer to the Gulf Coast.

At the same time, the cost of chemicals used in the refinery have increased substantially, Schudmak said.

On a brighter side, labor – a stumbling block for many industries this year – has not been a problem at Cora Texas.

“We don’t have anyone coming to apply for jobs, but we’ve been able to retain our staff, so we’re in good shape,” Schudmak said.

He expects the season to end Jan. 3, 2022.

The harvest stated late because Cora Texas could not get enough drivers across the border because appointments were not available to get them into the United States, Schudmak said.

On a brighter note, Cora Texas installed new capital equipment in the factor that propelled some factory records.

It marked the first year Cora Texas ever grinded 20,000 tons of cane.

“When you depend on the weather, you don’t know what you’re going to get,” Schudmak said.

Once the harvest ends, the regrouping process will begin.

“We tear things down to the ground and build it back,” he said. “We’re busy the whole nine months – not necessarily around the clock, but we’re 40 or 50 hours a week.”

Cora Texas is one of only 11 mills remaining in Louisiana, which had 1,300 mills prior to the Civil War.

Louisiana is one of only three states that produce cane sugar. The others are Florida and Texas.