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Maui’s Mahi Pono to offer lots to local farmers

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    Central Maui land once used to grow sugar cane will be converted to community farm blocks for local farmers.

WAILUKU >> The company that bought a vast expanse of land in Central Maui from Hawaii’s last sugar cane plantation plans to kick off its new operations by offering lots to local farmers to grow their crops.

Mahi Pono LLC principal Ceil Howe III told The Maui News it will offer 1-, 5- and 10-acre community farm blocks to local farmers. Farmers also would have access to Mahi Pono’s equipment, management, budgeting and marketing services.

Mahi Pono is a joint venture of California-based Pomona Farming and the Canadian Public Sector Pension Investment Board.

It bought 41,000 acres from Alexander & Baldwin in December for $262 million after the longtime sugar grower decided in 2016 to get out of the agriculture business and focus on commercial real estate.

Mahi Pono was looking at placing the lots near the old Puunene Mill, a central and visible location which has access to water and is sheltered from the wind, Howe said.

The company also would provide plots for research and offer an internship program for local high school and college students. An advisory board of local community members would be established to set the rules and parameters.

Shan Tsutsui, Mahi Pono senior vice president of operations and former Hawaii lieutenant governor, said the company is still working out how much it will lease the land for.

Mahi Pono inherited several of A&B’s nonsugar agriculture ventures, including Kulolio Ranch, a 5,500-acre grass-fed cattle operation.

Tsutsui and Howe said Thursday that Mahi Pono’s future plans include planting leafy green vegetable crops over the next six to eight months. It eventually expects to grow citrus, macadamia nuts and avocados for the local market, set up a farmers market and expand cattle operations and biofuel crop trials.

Mahi Pono has said it plans to produce high-quality, nongenetically modified food for local consumption with export potential. It has no plans to convert any of the land to nonagricultural uses.

In a separate announcement Wednesday, Mahi Pono said it has hired Larry Nixon as general manager for its diversified-agriculture endeavor. Nixon started the job Monday after most recently serving as business unit manager for macadamia nut producer MacFarms of Hawaii.

Prior to his job at MacFarms, Nixon managed operations at the Oregon cooperative Malin Potato and Roll Global, a company that is now the diverse producer of snacks, flowers, wine and water known as The Wonderful Co. with brands that include POM Wonderful, Fiji Water and Halos. Nixon also is a past operations manager of Sun Pacific, a citrus fruit producer with brands including Cuties mandarin oranges and Mighties kiwi fruits.


Christine Donnelly is on vacation. Kokua Line returns Tuesday.

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