Goodbye Sugar. Hello… What?
Story by Paul Wood | Photography by Tony Novak-Clifford
Alexander & Baldwin, Inc., spent all of 2016 shutting down its 140-year-old sugar plantation — Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company — after decades of running behind global competition. The formerly steaming mill stacks no longer tell the people of Maui which way the wind is blowing.
HC&S was the last of Hawaiʻi’s once-great sugar plantations. What phoenix will emerge from those fields?
Public reactions to this historic change have been as widespread as the plantation itself. Some residents have rejoiced over the end of cane burning — the long-standing preharvest practice of torching the ripe fields. Some have wept over the loss of employment, or of Maui’s heritage. Some have offered visions of a vast organic farm filling the island’s central plain. Others scoff at the idea. For example, the oft-cited and often sour economist Paul Brewbaker told Pacific Business News last year that “Agriculture is the last thing that is going to happen on Maui.”
Others shrug. HC&S was the last vestige of Hawai‘i’s sugar-farming tradition. Everyone saw this coming. Maui runs on tourism now. “The visitor industry remains Maui County’s most diversified and important economic engine,” says Sherry Duong, executive director of the Maui Visitors & Convention Bureau. “The closing of the plantation will not affect that status.” In fact, Duong says, “It will be exciting to see what new agritourism opportunities emerge from the cane fields.”
So, what gives, and who knows?