It’s been a tough year for sugar farmers and factory workers in the Rio Grande Valley, as first the global health crisis and then the landfall of Hurricane Hanna created new challenges. The Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers are a critical part of these South Texas communities and we have faith that working together, they will continue to support each other during these unprecedented times.
Recovery will not come easily, but the Texan sugar industry has a long history of supporting its neighbors and investing in sustainable communities.
Earlier this year, the American Sugar Alliance traveled to south Texas to get a first-hand look at how the Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers give back as a key part of their commitment to sustainability.
For decades, sugar farmers and workers in Texas have been sustainably growing sugar cane and producing raw sugar in this beautiful place. But their commitment to sustainability does not end at the farm gate. They also help ensure that the rural communities in the surrounding area remain strong – a mission that has become even more critical as the COVID-19 pandemic has gripped the nation.
Ofelia Gonzales works for Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers processing data in the mill. She’s also a member of the local Rotary and sees the industry’s impact firsthand in the many ways they support the Rotary’s community efforts.
“I’ve always helped in the community at one end or the other,” she said. “The sugar mill is one of our main sponsors for the Rotary.”
The mill is also an important partner with the Ronald McDonald House in Harlingen, Texas.
“It’s all fundraising and donations from the community” said Denise Cantu, the program manager. “They help us with sponsoring our events and they also give us an annual donation at the end of the year. They help with helping the families. And that’s a great feeling that they are here and able to help us. Because it’s very hard to ask for the donations and to be able to run this place. It’s very expensive.”
Of course, sustainability also means a commitment to protecting the resources that allow our farmers to grow sugarcane. And when it’s time for harvest, the farmers in the Rio Grande Valley go big.
“We run 24 hours a day,” said Sean Brashear, CEO of Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers. “That means we harvest 24 hours a day, we deliver 24 hours a day.”
With all that cane comes fiber from leaves and stalks that is removed and piled high. It’s called bagasse and it doesn’t go to waste. This green energy source powers both the massive mill as well as surrounding homes and businesses.
“If everything works well, we produce excess power that we go ahead and distribute on the grid,” he said. “From there, our nearest neighboring town is Santa Rosa, and we go ahead and feed it through Santa Rosa and for the most part we have the potential for supplying 100 percent of the power for Santa Rosa.”
Stay tuned for more videos of the incredible ways that the Texas sugarcane industry is producing sugar, sustainably.