Louisiana Sugar Refining and the Port of South Louisiana work together to produce and distribute one of America’s most important commodities.
The River Parishes has a long history of sugar cane farming, production and refining, and the Port of South Louisiana is home to Louisiana Sugar Refining—a major employer in the region and a driver of the local and state economy.
“Every single day, the Port of South Louisiana is feeding this nation and the world,” said Paul Matthews, CEO of the Port of South Louisiana. “We move over 100 million tons of agriculture products produced by America’s farmers. Port of South Louisiana will always work in partnership with the entire sugar cane industry, from the farmers planting the seed stalk all the way to the refiners producing the sugar.”
Sugar Production in Louisiana
According to the American Sugar Cane League (ASCL), a non-profit organization of Louisiana sugar cane growers and processors, Louisiana is the oldest and most historic of the sugar-producing areas in the United States. In fact, sugar cane arrived in the Pelican State with the Jesuit priests in 1751 who planted it near where their church now stands on Baronne Street in New Orleans.
The ASCL said that sugar cane is produced on more than 480,000 acres of land in 24 Louisiana parishes. As of 2021, the organization estimated that production in the state exceeded 14 million tons of sugar cane, with an economic impact of $2.3 billion to the cane growers and raw sugar factories of the state. Louisiana is one of only four states in the nation to produce sugar cane, along with Florida, Hawaii and Texas.
Originally founded in 1895 under the name Gramercy Sugar Co., the sugar refinery now known as LSR was founded in 2003 as a joint venture between Cargill, Inc., and Louisiana Sugar Growers and Refiners, Inc. By forming a joint venture, LSR has been able to ensure the growth and stability of the state’s sugar cane farmers by integrating more than 800 growers in the industry.
The company added Imperial Sugar Co. in 2007, which provided funds to access new technology and improved infrastructure at the now 128-year-old Gramercy refinery. While Imperial Sugar sold its share in 2011, the facility is now capable of refining 2 billion pounds of white sugar annually, and produces and distributes refined sugar to food manufacturers and distributors in bulk, industrial and retail sized packages.
Located within the 54-mile jurisdiction of the Port of South Louisiana, the largest tonnage grain port in the United States, it’s no wonder that LSR and the Port of South Louisiana are mutually beneficial partners in the distribution of sugar. According to Larry Faucheux, CEO and general manager at LSR, Port of South Louisiana traces its roots back to the sister sugar refinery of LSR. “In the 1950’s, LSR was known as Colonial Sugar Refinery and the Port is located on what was once the Godchaux Henderson Sugar Refinery,” Faucheux said. “Today, nearly 1.4 million tons per year of raw sugar is either grown, milled or refined in the Port’s vicinity.”
LSR refines this locally sourced sugar cane into granulated sugar, liquid sucrose and molasses for industrial and foodservice customers. “What separates us is that we are 100-percent sourced United States sugar cane, and we utilize local communities as an integral facet of our daily operations,” Faucheux said.
LSR relies on nearly 400 local employees to help refine more than 1 million tons of raw sugar annually (representing more than two thirds of the sugar grown in Louisiana). “Approximately 800 Louisiana growers, all located within a 100-mile radius of LSR, currently supply the refinery with all of its raw sugar needs through SUGAR, a cooperative of growers and eight Louisiana sugar mills.”
One local grower, Pete Dufresne, St. James Parish President, is a first-generation sugar cane farmer who started in 1999. “That first year I produced approximately 30,000 tons of cane, and we gradually increased our production,” he said. “Over the years I’ve been able to acquire new and innovative farming operations, and now I produce around 90,000 tons of cane. This is roughly 20 million pounds of sugar.”
While sugar cane farmers face challenges such as rising costs and weather fluctuations, one of the biggest challenges is educating incoming elected officials on Capitol Hill about the importance of the sugar provisions in the Farm Bill. “Sugar cane and sugar beet growers work together to partner with elected officials from across the country to advocate for farmers and our food supply,” Dufresne said.
The support of Louisiana lawmakers to maintain the current arrangement means that sugar subsidies provide essential safeguards against bargain imports with questionable quality. Dufresne, who has been a member of LSR since its inception, said that the partnership has proven to be a lifeline despite challenges in the industry. “It was a tremendous help when the refining process was integrated to include the growers and the mills,” he said.
Dufresne said that in the past, LSR would contract the raw sugar to the refinery and could never capitalize on the white price, meaning the price of the refined sugar. Now that they’re in partnership with the refinery, the profits are more evenly distributed from the refinery on down to the grower.
This presented growers with the opportunity to rely on a more stable income and enabled the farmers to compete with rising production costs and plan for capital improvements. LSR only refines and sells non-GMO Louisiana sugar, which makes their product unique and desirable in the consumer world.
Another benefit of LSR is the creation of jobs provided to residents of St. James and the surrounding parishes. “The sugar refinery employs 400 people, of which 80 percent are St. James Parish residents,” Dufresne said. “The jobs offered at the refinery include a wide variety of opportunities, from laborers up to engineering positions, and everything in between. It’s significant not just to St. James Parish, but to the River Region, and the entire cane belt.”
Additionally, the sugar industry supports other businesses ranging from equipment dealers and hardware stores to grocery stores and the fuel industry. Dufresne said that the sugar industry, in some way, affects every resident of Louisiana. “It’s the sweetest industry I know of,” he said.
LSR also works to uphold three pillars of sustainability: environmental, community and economic. Environmental initiatives include water conservation, condensate recovery, recycling, and resource and waste minimization.
In the community, LSR has implemented a recycling program at the local elementary and high schools, and the company offers paid internships for high school and college students to receive hands-on work experience. The company also has created an annual scholarship, managed by the LSU College of Agriculture, geared toward students studying plant and soils systems or agricultural business.
Economically, LSR focuses on supporting local businesses, hiring from within the community and giving back. Ferrara, the third-largest non-chocolate confectionary company in the United States, recently recognized LSR for corporate responsibility based on its sustainability efforts.
According to Dufresne, the sugar industry appears to be stable and bright. “The United States doesn’t produce as much sugar as we used to, and we must rely on other countries to help meet the demand,” he said.
Dufresne said growers are constantly working on research and development to produce new varieties to increase their production. He said he’s extremely happy and proud to have established himself and his family in the sugar industry.
“It’s amazing to watch my two sons operate the day-to-day activities on our farm, and we will be able to pass this family business down for generations to come,” Dufresne said. “As long as we continue to produce, there will always be a demand.” •