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Last sugar plantation in Hawaii to close this year


    Benjamin Garduque sprays pesticides in the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company (HC&S) sugar cane field on Maui.


    Benjamin Garduque sprays pesticides in the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company (HC&S) sugar cane field on Maui.

Future plans for HC&S land (Premium content)

Hawaii’s last sugar plantation will wind down by the end of this year, its owner announced today.

Alexander & Baldwin Inc. said it will phase out sugarcane farming on Maui at Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. over the next 12 months and transition the 36,000-acre farm to a diversified crop model.

A&B said many employees will be laid off starting in March as their specific functions are completed, and that about half of the 675 HC&S workers will be retained through the end of the last harvest late this year.

Company leaders said the decision was reached with “great regret” and was based partly on HC&S losing $30 million last year.

“This is a sad day for A&B,” Chris Benjamin, A&B’s president and chief executive officer who ran HC&S as its general manager from 2009 to 2011, said in a statement.

Alexander & Baldwin was founded by sugar-growing descendants of Protestant missionaries 145 years ago. Today, much of its business focuses on real estate.

Sugar and pineapple plantations run by big landowners once dominated Hawaii’s economy. Sugar in particular took off after 1876 when Hawaii, which was still a monarchy at the time, won the ability to export the commodity to the United States duty-free.

Plantation owners later played a prominent role in running Hawaii after the U.S.-backed overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Plantations remained the islands’ economic engine until the launch of passenger jet travel shortened the length of flights from the West Coast and triggered a tourism boom.

The plantations drew immigrants from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Portugal and elsewhere to work in the fields, giving Hawaii the ethnic diversity still evident today.

A&B doesn’t have any plans for large land sales, though it may sell some small parcels as it has in the past, Benjamin said. The entire property is zoned for agriculture, and the company plans to keep it that way.

It’s not yet clear what crops will be grown on the land, Benjamin said in an interview. Sorghum and other grasses have shown promise in research trials conducted at the plantation, he said.

If successful, Benjamin said, those plans could support Hawaii as it tries to achieve food and energy self-sufficiency.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said he was deeply saddened by the news.

“For over 130 years, sugar production on Maui was more than a business, spawning a way of life and generations of hard working women and men who made our state remarkable and great,” he said in a statement.

Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa said his heart goes out to workers who will lose their jobs, but the change was inevitable. “Fruit trees, taro, bio-mass, papayas, avocados and much more have all gone through trial testing, leaving us very confident that while sugar cane is dead, agriculture will remain very much alive here,” he said in a statement.

Benjamin said the company was providing enhanced benefits and one-on-one assistance to help those being laid off move into retirement or a new job.


The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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    • Houses for whom? Sugar workers who’ve lost their jobs? Snowbirds who’ll jack up the local real estate prices so the locals can’t afford a place to live?

      What about creating long-term jobs for locals first? Then build affordable houses so we can have a little taste of the American dream.

    • How come no one has mentioned the NEW plantation cash crop cash producing MARIJUANA industry that is about to take root on these islands thanks to our fabulous legislature? The scramble for dispensary licenses among well heeled insiders should provide a clue about the prospects of a multibillion dollar plantation industry that has so many profit seekers drooling. And what effect will this have on kids as young as 11? The official response of our so called “representatives”: who cares, not our problem.

    • It’s not that sad. I don’t like to see farms close down, but sugar cane doesn’t actually produce “food” and it is a very water-thirsty crop on an island that consistently exceeds its sustainable yield of water. Hopefully the diversified crops that take it’s place will be a better choice than sugar.

      • agree…Hawaii cannot compete with sugar in other parts of the USA and world. I like the idea of diversified crops.WE all love locally grown food. Wish that there was much more of it out here.

    • Actually they already have plenty of a “land bank” in Hawaii. They don’t need any more land. We may see a bit of a down sizing instead, as has already been indicated by Dupont/Pioneer, especially do to their merger with Dow. Comodity crop prices are historically low and farmers will be planting cheaper traditional seed lines next season and using genric glyphosate as Monsanto lost their patent.

  • Im excited to see the transition. Lots of options in a state that imports an overwhelming amount of food crops. Hope the workers get an option for affordable leases to farm the land. Imua

      • “Sustainable ag” — YES, that’s where it’s at, and that’s where I’m headed with land I have been banking for many years. But, this land(?)–not so good; it is has been completely contaminated with PESTICIDES and has heavy concentrations of ARSENIC.
        Until we expel Syngenta and Monsanto, et al from Hawaii–we will always be plagued…

        • Farkward, YOU are ignorant of the FACTS. The ONLY chemical that land is loaded with is nitrogen !! Uh, in case you don’t know what that is, it’s a fertilizer. The worst chemicals were associated with the Pineapple industry because they had to deal with Nematodes. RoundUp is water soluble and if a seed falls on an area that RoundUp was used, it would grow to a ripe old age. I bet you’re from the mainland, have lived on Maui for 10 years, and consider yourself “local”. Try again brah, Sugar was an excellent keeper of land. A & B cared more than any other company as far as keepers of the Aina

    • Think it will be more like Hoopili with houses on the best land and small farms in the gulches. Right now growing our own food is not economical and the best thing we can do is hang on to the prime land until it is. Sugar, pineapple, and now seed corn were/are doing this but soon they will all be gone. Then again this is what many on Maui wanted and now they have it . . .

    • Why not that picture? It’s a fact that they soak the ground with pesticides and then burn it. Maybe it would have been better to show the kids in the nearby school choking on the smoke.

  • If the American consumer can buy the same product elsewhere cheaper, in this case sugar, they will do so. Global competition? The world has to adjust to that reality.

    • Bingo. You hit the nail on the head. Hawaii agriculture competes on a global scale. If a sugar processor can buy raw sugar from Costa Rica at a lower price than from Hawaii, they will buy it from Costa Rica. The vast majority of the commodity consumers (yes there are perhaps a small minority) don’t care where the raw product was grown. They just care about the price.

        • The reason why other countries can grow sugar cheaper is because of the HUGE subsidies those countries provide for their farmers. Just like our Corn, Wheat, Soy, etc growers, big subsidies mean artificially cheap product. The US max price for sugar was 17 cents/lb, so HC & S would receive 14 cents because they ARE the most efficient Sugar Grower in the world = BY FAR !!!
          It’s the cost of labor that kills Hawaii agriculture. Payroll has gone from 15-20% of budget in the pre 1960s to over 60% of budget at present.

  • Thank the lawsuits from Mainland transplants who whined and sued about the smoke, thank Congress for not helping the Sugar Industry with competitive subsidies that other countries provide for their sugar growers, thank the State of Hawaii for not giving tax incentives to use sugar in alternative ways. As a former employee of both McBryde sugar and Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar, I feel I had the privilege of working in an industry that put Hawaii on the map. I worked with wonderful people of all races that just cared “How many tons of sugar are we going to produce this year”. Now, all the anti sugar morons will get their wish, but instead of sugar growing, HOUSES will sprout up and Maui will become worse than Oahu for traffic, crime, and wishing HC & S was still here !!
    In 1982, after HC & S and McBryde Sugar lost $27 million, Bobby Pfeiffer personally announced to both plantations that A & B would NEVER lose almost $30 million ever again because they would shut it down. Long Live the Sugar Plantations. aloha Oe, and Mahalo for allowing me to experience a wonderful way of life !! I’ll never forget you

    • Blame the people that hate the smoke and ash everyday? That is not why they closed, I will tell you why they closed.
      Blame A & B -thats right blame themselves for supporting the Johnson act and the price of exporting being too high.
      Matson(A&B)is hurting every person in this state financially yet no politicians do nothing about it.
      36,000 acres and you only employ 675 people? big whoops. Just one Hotel has you beat.

        • Both of you don’t have the facts to back your arguments.
          HC & S multiplier factor was 3 to 1 when I worked there through the early 80s. THAT meant 3 outside workers were employed that was HC & S related !! YOU think the alternatives will be BETTER ???? Makes me think you BOTH are mainland transplants with no respect for local culture or tradition. Take a look what has happened to McBryde Sugar on Kauai, or ANY Plantation that has shut down. NONE of them has a significant sustainable crop/farm going !!! It’s just another hippie, idealistic dream a minority of people have, the reality is MUCH different and sobering. YOU will get your bachi with BIG unemployment, traffic, & despair for displaced workers. Be careful what you wish for, transplants !!!

  • >>> sprays pesticides in the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company

    That’s where they went wrong. There would be more money is organic Hawaiian cane sugar.

    BTW, aren’t there smaller companies selling Hawaiian sugar?

    • It takes three years minimum to get land certified to be organic. If at any time during the three year waiting period it is discovered that the land was accidentally contaminated, that three year period starts all over again. Hard to be organic if surrounding farms are still using pesticides. Number of organic producers registered in the state has declined more than 30% since 2014 according to USDA data. Used to be over 200 organic producers. Now there’s about 135 registered organic producers in the state. Still, they offer everything from coffee, mac nuts, cocoa and even beer. You pay a little more but at least you know it has zero or less then the residual amount of substances listed on the prohibited list set by the EPA.

      • it’s not hard if they plant a cover crop that will remediate the soil – like hemp. Actually they’d make more $ just growing hemp… so much can be done with it. Doesn’t require pesticides and doesn’t require as much water.

  • The workers will never find equitable employment. Just which fast food restaurant will they work at now? It’s nothing more then a money grab by greedy A&B.

      • Yeah ?? Ask the laid off people @ McBryde Sugar how “easy” it was to be retrained. That is IF you can find them, most had to move from their beloved Kauai to find gainful employment. In fact, do some homework and ask ANY Plantation worker how “easy” it was to be retrained and find decent work.

  • An era has ended! It was wonderful while it lasted. The footprints of all the unique races and cultures that were the basis of our Hawaii’s unprecedented life. A way of life unequaled to any place on earth! We were able to live in harmony regardless the origin of our country and the fusion of each of our languages to create “pigeon”, the unparalleled communication of us locals! It is with sadness to bid Aloha to the end of this era!

        • Wassamatta wit u? Boy donno how spell pidgin? Bumbay dey going make fun of da locals. Wise up laddat. Mahalo, have a great day Wiz!

      • Amen Braddah Wizard !! I truly treasure the period of my life spent at HC & S and McBryde Sugar. The people lived in harmony, cared for the aina, but most of all had the old aloha spirit with each other. It was a BIG family that took care of each othe, INCLUDING A & B, the most benevolent of the Big Five. It’s no coincidence that A & B is the last of the Big Five standing.

    • That’s odd – I never heard a cane worker say it was “wonderful” or “unprecedented life” or “life unequaled to any place on earth” or “live in harmony”. I doubt you ever really worked in the cane fields. More likely, you just watched others working.

  • I still miss all the sugarcane that we used to have in Ewa Beach. back in the 60s after they burn the sugarcane we used to go watch the workers cutting sugarcane with there cane knifes, we always went up to them and they cut us a piece of sugar cane when harvesting and let us eat good ol sugarcane, when sugarcane was starting to grow lot of us used to play army in the fields, lots of fun when we were kids the cane spiders were a little nuisance but no big deal, liked to watch the sugarcane fields burning right across the street where I live, those were the good old days and no environmentalist

  • “U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said he was deeply saddened by the news.” Guess he doesn’t really care that many people are sickened by HCSC’s archaic practice of burning cane – not to mention the tons of pesticides that are sprayed (and subsequently burned). Too bad – I thought Schatz cared about the environment.

  • Hopefully Maui can resist the inevitable push to convert agricultural land to rampant development. Our Oahu politicians are still the pawns of the big land owners that brought sugar cane to the islands in the 1800s. It’s inevitable that these landowners will want unlimited development from the ocean to the top of our mountains.

  • The sugar industry actually created the diverse mixed race culture we have here today. What nationality are you? Typical reply is Oh, Chinese, Hawaiian, Portuguese, with a pinch of German, my wife is Japanese, my son married a Korean girl, and my daughter is dating one Haole guy. Made in Hawaii! Born and raised!

  • It’s obvious from the comments that most posting are NOT residents of Maui! As a resident here, as well as someone who has family and friends that work for HC&S , I’m very upset over the fact that these poor people will no longer have a pay check. We are talking about over 600 jobs. This isn’t a McDonalds closing. It’s an entire refinery. We hear everyday from a select group of selfish individuals that they are happy the plantation is shutting down so there won’t be any annoying smoke to deal with. Seriously! Maybe you should get back on that plane that brought you here since it’s not to your liking because comments like that NOW will likely end you up in a hospital!

    • You couldn’t say it any better !!! The LOCAL people all knew when harvest season would start, they knew if you live in Kihei, be ready to be smoked out periodically, they knew there was no bogus pesticides in the smoke either, they KNEW how large an economic presence HC & S represented. More importantly, they knew A & B took care of Maui !! Do ANY of these transplants even know about East Maui Irrigation Co. ???? Who’s gonna maintain Kahului’s main water supplier NOW ??? Typical selfish, ignorant, disrespectful people from outside Hawaii !!!

    • Nicely said… the only jerks cheering this are the mainland transplants that were rich enough to move to Maui and not have to actually work, so they don’t care about real working people or their hardships. This is hugely negative for Maui.

    • Better control yourself. They are not closing a “refinery” like you say. Okay, so 600 jobs are lost – there are other industries where thousands of people are released due to job lossed or poor business. The plantation is not closing because of the “smoke” but rather because they are not competititve and are losing money.And, when you complain about “mainland transplants”, it was mainland people who created and owned all the sugarcane and pineapple plantations. And, how are “comments” going to “end you up in a hospital”? Better wise up and keep cool.

      • It’s obvious what side of the fence your on. That’s fine! What’s saddens me is how desensitized you are to make a comment like “ok so 600 jobs are lost”. To blame the cooperation for failure is one thing, to use the employees as victims of hat is just wrong! Maybe you think it’s ok for these poor families to be unemployed. Why don’t you ask them how they feel? Finally, don’t lecture me about my comments and to “wise up and keep cool”. At no time in my comments did I threaten anyone! I’ll emphasize that to you, since you took my words completely out of context! Remember, you are just another small fish in a very big pond like the rest of us!!!

  • I’m puzzled by this photo since HC&S sprays an ungodly mixture of Dicamba, Diruron, 2,4-D, Pendimethanlin, Ametryn, and Hexazinone from a huge tractor with outriggers. I’ve never seen people spraying.

    At least 5 homes in Paia have tested as contamiunated with their overspray.

    Then just before harvest they use a helicopter to spray glyphosate which drifts over nearby parks and kills the vulnerable trees (shower trees and poinsiennas seem to be most vulnerable)

    I, for one, will be relieved not to be oversprayed by their poison drift.

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