Tavares is optimistic about the future of local cattle and crops. “The number of [young] people interested in ag is growing. I still believe agriculture can play a huge role in our state’s economic future.”
Alex Franco also sees a bright future for Maui ranching. “A lot of chefs here believe in local cuisine; they go out of their way to work with us.” Maui Cattle Company has also begun supplying beef for public school lunches and participates in the Maui County Farm Bureau’s “Ag in the Classroom” education program for second-graders.
Partnerships are also key to the survival of Maui’s other famous heritage crop: pineapple. Once nearly as formidable as Big Sugar, the statewide industry has dwindled to one fresh-fruit operation on Maui. After Maui Land & Pineapple Company closed Hawai‘i’s last cannery in 2007 and ceased growing fruit several years later, a small group of former ML&P executives formed Hāli‘imaile Pineapple Company, leasing land, purchasing equipment, and most importantly, acquiring from ML&P exclusive rights to the super-sweet Maui Gold hybrid.
Hāli‘imaile Pineapple (dba Maui Gold) began with a workforce of around sixty-five former ML&P employees, and fought valiantly to stay afloat, but Rudy Balala, executive vice-president of operations and sales, states the obvious: “Ag is difficult. We’ve struggled.” After seven years of drought conditions, and financial challenges, Balala and then-president Darren Strand made a last-ditch effort to save the company. They approached the owners of Hali‘imaile Distillers, which produces PAU Maui Vodka using Maui Gold pineapple. On March 1st, 2018, the LeVecke Corporation purchased Hali‘imaile Pine.
“The new owners are committed to keeping pineapple on Maui,” Balala says happily. He anticipates changes in farming, planting, and marketing practices. “We’re known as the best pineapple in the world, but there’s always room for improvement.”