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End of an era: Hawaii’s last sugar mill wraps up final harvest


    Structures on the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar plantation in Puunene on Maui, as seen in April 2010. The only remaining sugar mill in Hawaii is wrapping up its last harvest.

The only remaining sugar mill in Hawaii is ending its final harvest.

The last cane haul at Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company on Maui is expected to happen today, Hawaii News Now reported. Parent company Alexander & Baldwin announced in January that it would phase out sugar production this year.

“Hawaii produced over a million tons of sugar per year for over 50 years. At one time that was 20 percent of all the sugar that was consumed in the United States,” said Robert Osgood, a retired consultant for the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center and co-author of “From King Cane to the Last Sugar Mill.”

Sugar farms in Hawaii have closed or consolidated, and competition has increased worldwide. Alexander & Baldwin reported an operating loss of about $30 million in agribusiness in 2015. The company also faced battles over water rights and the public health effects of burning cane leaves.

“The community on Maui has changed quite a bit,” said Rick Volner, general manager at the sugar plantation. “We’ve got a lot more urbanized areas and some of the nuisances that are associated with agriculture, especially sugar cane, definitely contributed to that.”

Many workers at the sugar plantation aren’t sure what they will do next. About half of the 650 employees have already been laid off, and more than 140 have found other jobs, according to the company. A transition team is helping the workers adjust.

Robin Fernandez and Ricky Watimar said their great-grandfather came to Hawaii from Portugal and six generations of their family ended up working in the sugar industry.

“You won’t see sugar anymore, and sugar was all we know,” Fernandez said.

Alexander & Baldwin has said it would pursue diversified agriculture for its 36,000-acre plantation on Maui.

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  • sad to see it. The sugar industry provided good jobs for thousands of poor immigrants who lacked education, opportunity in their home country or skills. IT gave them a decent place to live, gave them education and a solid salary. It gave them a platform to advance. Nothing we have now, other than the tourist industry maybe, can ever begin to replace this industry.

    • I hate to see agriculture, generally, disappear – but sugar cane, specifically, was a terrible crop. It is a very water-thirty crop, especially for a plant that not provide actual food or nutrients.

      • Quote from me Warren Luke to Chamber of Commerce: “We Chinese who made it to Hawaii have to thank sugar and pineapple for our unprecedented social-economic rise.”

      • Yep, sugar not good for people. Better if worldwide consumption of sugar decreased. But unfortunately, it’s too addicting and a bunch of companies want to keep getting rich off sugar and sugar-frosted foods.

  • I’m curious why they didn’t get into the rum business. They already sold molasses to rum makers. Kauai does it and there are a few niche producers making a name for themselves. Actually I already know the answer… they’re just another real estate developer like most former Hawaii plantations. Auwe

  • Not a surprise. Like everything else, there are lower-cost alternatives in other parts of the world.

    Even macadamia nuts are going down. Australia surpassed Hawaii’s production in 1997. Now South Africa is the world leader in macadamia production. Hawaii too expensive. When I lived on the mainland and came back to visit home once in awhile, I’d wait until I flew back to the mainland, then bought macadamia nuts at a mainland supermarket to give to my friends as a “Hawaii souvenir!

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