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.