The End of Maui Sugarcane

The Pu‘unēnē Mill has ceased production, along with 36,000 acres of sugarcane farming in Maui’s central valley and along the island’s north shore, ending about two centuries of commercial sugar in Hawai‘i. Maui’s very identity is teetering between crisis and opportunity.

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Maui sugarcane plowTrucked in from Pu‘unēnē Mill, mountains of raw sugar occupy Kahului Trucking & Storage’s warehouses at the Port of Kahului — at least for now. As bulldozers plow through the raw sugar, it falls through openings in the floor onto waiting conveyor belts that carry it to a ship’s hold for transport to California, where the raw sugar and molasses are further refined for distribution. The closing of HC&S will soon make a molehill out of that mountain.

The Land Will Not Be Abandoned

HC&S will continue to farm. But under what name, and growing what?

For decades the company has experimented with crops other than sugar. Right now it’s conducting wide-scale trials of soybean, corn, sorghum, and sunflower. No other crop can withstand the winds of Maui’s central plain quite the way sugarcane did. Nevertheless,

“We want to get this land redeployed,” Benjamin said in a September interview on Hawai‘i Public Radio. “We’re looking to the community for solutions.” He says the company has received hundreds of proposals, “some of which we’re pursuing.”

Meanwhile, HC&S manager Rick Volner is determined to protect the farm’s fertility by means of cover crops and conservation strategies. “In most of the fields, immature cane is being mulched into the ground to create a protective layer,” he says. “In harvested fields, grasses and vines are allowed to come up, and these will be mowed to manage them.” He intends to test new agricultural techniques “to improve soil health and minimize artificial inputs.” The land will not blow off to Kīhei in a dust storm, nor will it run into the sea to choke the reefs.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I want to retain some of the old Hawaii. Sorry to see the sugar cane go away, looked forward to seeing the stacks smoking and sugar cane blowing in the wind. Too much development of too many units robs Hawaii of what makes Hawaii. The Island feel of things past and a people that ruled these Islands and kept them beautiful and treated it with respect. Over fishing, polluting the oceans with plastic and garbage, most people just don’t care, it’s very sad. Pineapple goes, sugar cane goes and soon Hawaii, Maui, will not be the beautiful Island it once was.

  2. HC&S will most likely go with selling the cane fields to wealthy land developers who will ruin the central valley and Northshore by putting new housing developments all over the area! (farming…? For real…?)
    The once quaint and quiet Northshore will have a highway put in to replace Hana Highway so that all the malahini can get to their “gated communities!” Maui County better pass some land development restrictions NOW, before big money corrupts the outcome of Maui’s precious resources and limited infrastructure…
    What would you rather have, the cane fields and the occasional “Hawaiian snow” or tons of mainlanders swooping in to buy their new vacation homes in a gated community near you…?

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