Today Alexander & Baldwin announced they’ll be shutting down sugarcane operations by late 2016.
They announced that they will be transitioning Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company (HC&S) to a diversified farm model. They will be looking at the potential of energy crops, cattle land, and an agriculture park for food crops for their 36,000 acre plantation here in Maui, Hawaii.
Their last sugarcane harvest is expected to be completed by late 2016, and until then around half of their 675 employees will remain in their jobs. Their decision was made after seeing a “roughly $30 million Agribusiness operating loss” from 2015, which forecasts show it continuing with large losses that are unsustainable.
Their decision to shut down Maui sugarcane operations after 145 years will impact everyone living on and visiting Maui, Hawaii. The outcome of this change could go in many different ways (and probably will!)
What will happen to Maui?
We’ve taken guesses and asked questions below, and we’re not experts on much of this, so please comment with your thoughts and correct us.
- Jobs – The loss of jobs is incredibly sad, but they did mention that HC&S employees will be given preference to lease lots to start their own farms. That, of course, requires a serious investment from the employees. The loss of 675 jobs is a big number. But how many jobs could be created from the new uses for this land? Will having diverse crops require more labor than the current large scale mono-crops? Will developing energy crops necessitate the use of more skilled labor? It’s possible many more than 675 jobs will be created, but those new jobs won’t be created over night.
- Growth and Infrastructure – Tell us if we’re wrong, but if they go through with expanding their “test projects” for energy crops, irrigated grass finishing pastures for cattle, and new food crops, wouldn’t that require new infrastructure and growth of industry on Maui?
- End to Cane Burning – There will be a lot of people rejoicing at the thought of their lungs being given a break. Sugarcane burning has been used for years to increase the yield and make harvesting more efficient for HC&S. Some of our writers here live up against cane and are very happy to hear that they won’t have to close up their homes and leave the neighborhood while a form of smokey Armageddon takes over the sky. We also know of people that moved off island because of health issues they swear came from the burns.
- Terrain Changes – What will this do to the land? In a most extreme case, what if 36,000 of the 88,000 acres that Alexander & Baldwin own were made into cattle land, or just not developed at all? What would that do to the land? Will wind erosion affect other parts of the island?
- Water Usage – Water is always a concern on Maui. HC&S has been using quite a lot of it in places that were not irrigated in the same way over a hundred years ago. Will new crops require more or less water?
- Monsanto – It’s no secret that Monsanto owns large amounts of agricultural land on Maui for the purpose of open air testing. HC&S plans on creating a food crop agriculture park as a test project where they’ll “provide opportunities for farmers to access these agricultural lands.” Is it possible that Monsanto would get their hands on it?
- New Development – Alexander & Baldwin has a subsidiary called A&B Properties, Inc. and has acquired Grace Pacific, Hawaii’s largest materials and paving company. Do they have plans of selling and/or building on much of this land for retail, industrial, or residential use?
- Energy – Most of our island’s energy comes from a pretty ancient diesel burning plant. Is biogas cleaner? Could we move towards more sustainable energy sources? HC&S has been generating 100% self-sufficient energy for some time now. Will their experience and interest in this carry over to the new crops?
- Tourism – Many tourists choose to visit Maui because of the green valley. Depending on how the land is eventually used, We could see an increase or loss of visitors to Maui.
- Long Term Plans – We find it hard to believe a massive company like this, largely involved with developing land, could let the sugarcane lose money for so long without a plan. Some of us believe this has been in the works for a decade or more. Maui is changing. Just look at the new airport improvements. We’re expecting quite a lot more people (both residents and visitors.) This August was the busiest we’ve seen it in the history of Maui. SO, was this change in business plan part of a bigger long term plan to develop this incredibly valuable land at the most opportune time? Please comment with your thoughts.
This is VERY BIG NEWS. We appreciate all of your input, so please share below in comments what you think.