Twelve years after the last sugar harvest took place in Puerto Rico, three government agencies are getting together to provide financial and technical support to help revive the sector that was once the backbone of the island’s economy.
Through an agreement, the Agriculture Department, the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company and the Economic Development and Commerce Department will work together with farmers to build a new sugar mill in Aguada. The total cost of the project is estimated at $172 million, Gov. Alejandro García-Padilla said during the announcement of the venture Wednesday.
The project calls for building a modern sugar mill at the Coloso Sugar Mill site in Aguada, which is scheduled to break ground during the latter half of this year, and take 18 months to complete. The construction phase will generate 300 direct and 900 indirect jobs. Once operational, the mill’s operation will spur 180 direct and 540 indirect jobs.
Meanwhile, the sugarcane harvest is already underway, with the conditioning of about 970 acres that began last month, with the goal of having close to 20,000 acres covered in sugarcane by 2016, García-Padilla said.
The 20,000 acres are spread among at least 10 towns along Puerto Rico’s western flank. Eighty percent of them are owned by sugarcane farmers, while the remaining 20 percent is in the hands of the Puerto Rico Lands Authority.
“By harvesting these close to 20,000 acres, we will produce about 800,000 tons of sugar cane, which will become 20.5 million gallons of molasses for rum distilleries in Puerto Rico,” the governor said. This production will be worth more than $51 million and will cover about 56 percent of the need for molasses of our island’s distilleries.”
Since the collapse of Puerto Rico’s sugar industry in the early 2000s, Puerto Rico distilleries have been forced to import molasses. In 2012, imports reached 35.6 million gallons, valued at $30 million, the Economic Development and Commerce Department said.
The future sugarcane production project could potentially generate 1,300 direct and 4,000 indirect jobs in the hard-hit agricultural sector, including fieldwork such as preparing lands, sowing seeds, harvesting, delivery and related administrative tasks.
During the news conference in Aguada, García-Padilla said the project has another potential purpose: energy production.
“In addition to covering its own energy needs, we’re going to study the feasibility of selling power to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority,” said García-Padilla