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Maui biodiesel sunflower project attracts unwanted visitors

WAILUKU >> Signs have been posted warning people against trespassing near a crop of sunflowers on Maui that is being grown as part of an experiment to produce biofuel. A growing number of visitors have been attracted to the yellow flowers that recently started blooming weeks ago.

Pacific Biodiesel Technologies is trying to cut down on the number of people parking along the roadway to view the property. There have also been reports of people stealing the flowers and damaging them, The Maui News reported.

“It’s disheartening,” said Pacific Biodiesel Vice President Kelly King. “I don’t know what makes people think they have the right to take flowers. We’re happy to share with people, but it’s gotten out of hand.”

The Hawaii-based company posted a statement on its Facebook page last week reminding people that the 7-acre property is a working farm on private property that is closed to the public. Access to the property has been restricted for safety reasons, said Kim Sloan, a Pacific Biodiesel spokeswoman.

“People are calling it the latest Maui attraction,” Sloan said. “We didn’t expect this type of excitement or attraction.”

The state Department of Transportation has also put up “no parking” signs by the sunflower field, which is near the intersection of Honoapiilani and Kuihelani highways. Motorists have been creating a safety hazard by parking on the shoulders of both roadways.

The crop will soon reach the end of its life cycle and will be harvested in June, King said.

Pacific Biodiesel plans to yield 100 gallons of oil per acre at the site to produce biofuel. The seeds will be crushed for oil, while the leaves may be used as a food source for people and other parts of the plant will be used as feed for livestock.

Another crop of sunflowers is being planted across 14 acres at a nearby field, King said.

The company said on its Facebook page that it plans to offer tourism events and educational tours in the future. Pacific Biodiesel Technologies wants to create an opportunity for “people to come in legally” and “share in the crop and the promise of diversified agriculture,” King said.

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