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The last sugar mill in Texas shuts down because of ongoing water issues with Mexico

A combine harvester cuts sugar cane
Nacho Doce
A combine harvester cuts sugar cane

Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers, Inc. (RGVSG, Inc.) announced last week it had completed its last harvest and milling season after more than five decades in operation.

The mill has operated since 1973 to grow and process sugarcane into raw sugar in the Valley.

It was the last remaining sugar operation in the state after the Holly Sugar Corporation sugar beet plant in Hereford closed in 1997.

The mill's board of directors cited ongoing issues and water shortages with Mexico as the driving reason behind the closure.

“For over 30 years, farmers in South Texas have been battling with Mexico’s failure to comply with the provisions of the 1944 Water Treaty between the U.S. and Mexico,” the company said in a statement.

The treaty governs water sharing on the Colorado River and the Lower Rio Grande between the two countries. Under the treaty, Mexico has the obligation to deliver 1.75 million acre-feet of water over a five-year cycle.

The mill said operations could not continue without reliable supplies of irrigation water, necessary crop insurance provisions, and administrative guidelines to maintain acres.

U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn reacted to the closure in a joint statement.

“Mexico’s failure to adhere to its obligations under the 1944 treaty … is having disastrous consequences on farmers and ranchers in South Texas,” they said. “The closure will be followed by others unless the Government of Mexico moves to come into compliance with those obligations.”

The mill produced more than 1.5 million tons of sugar cane per year across three counties, including 160,000 tons of raw sugar and 60,000 tons of blackstrap molasses.

It worked with more than 100 local growers and accounted for up to 11% of total gross revenues produced by RGV agriculture every year.

More than 500 full-time and seasonal workers annually.

“As we wind down operations, we will do everything possible to assist our employees and their families during the transition,” said President and CEO Sean Brasher in the statement.

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