Editor’s Notebook: Cargill Closes Salt Mine
Cargill

Editor’s Notebook: Cargill Closes Salt Mine

Why production ceased ahead of schedule at Avery Island mine, and what this means for the professional snow and ice management industry.

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January 29, 2021

Cargill announced Thursday, Jan. 28, the permanent end of salt production at its mine in Avery Island, La., nearly a year ahead of schedule.

The company had planned to halt hoisting salt from the mine later on Dec. 31, 2021 because the lease, with the landowner Avery Island Inc. expires at year-end.

“For over 24 years, we have been proud to be part of the Avery Island and New Iberia communities,” said Sonya Roberts, president of Cargill’s salt business, in a statement. “This was a difficult business decision, but ultimately the right one as we considered the future economics of the mine’s operation and our production capacity until the end of the year. We’d like to thank Avery Island Inc. for their partnership over those years and thank our hard-working employees who have made the mine successful.”

Roberts indicated the company, at this time, does not anticipate any supply issues for its customers. “We are confident we will be able to fulfill our customer obligations and do not expect disruptions to their operations,” she said in a statement. “Our supply chain is robust and we remain committed to investing in our other operations while continuing to grow our salt business.”

So what does this mean for professional snow and ice management industry, especially contractors who purchase their winter salt from Cargill?

Rob English, president Chemical Solutions Inc. and Snow Magazine contributing editor covering the salt and deicing industry, says he does not expect this move to have any discernible impact on the deicing market.   
“Cargill operates 22 other facilities producing salt,” English says. “While Avery Island is one of three mines dedicated to highway salt, Cargill does not expect any disruptions in supply at this time. “

The Avery Island mine is over 150 years old and has been plagued with problems; most recently a collapse in mid-December that resulted in two fatalities. English says Cargill -- which produces upwards of 14 million tons of salt annually for all applications from food, feed, water softeners, and deicing -- had planned to idle and close it by 2024, but recent events have advanced that schedule.

“Cargill has been challenged with mining operations in recent years including the Cayuga, NY, mine and mining under Lake Cayuga have concerned abutters regarding water quality and safety,” English says. “Mining is not a simple business and can be fraught with unexpected challenges.  Take the Diamond Crystal Lake Peigneur, La., disaster in 1980. This event is a dramatic example of how quickly a salt mine collapse can wreak havoc in hours.”

CLICK HERE to watch a short video on the Lake Peigneur Salt Mine disaster.

While Cargill will no longer produce salt from the mine, the company says there is still a significant amount of work that needs to be done at the mine to safely close the facility which will likely take until 2024. A detailed site closure plan has been established outlining work activities. The company is working with employees to offer a variety of support services as they are needed.

According to Cargill, Avery Island is one of three salt mines operated by the company, headquartered in Wayzata, MN. All three mines produce deicing salt that is used to keep roads safe and clear during the winter months throughout the U.S. and Canada. Cargill also operates a salt evaporation facility in Breaux Bridge, La., where the company is expanding capacity and increasing efficiency. Those facilities are not impacted by this announcement. Cargill also operates 22 other salt production locations that produce, package and ship salt for road deicing, food, water softening, agricultural, industrial and packaged ice control products.

Mike Zawacki is editor of Snow Magazine