Sugar Cane Plantations in Maui
Maui’s Sugar Cane Industry
If you’ve ever been to Maui you know that one of the reasons Maui is No Ka Oi (the best) is that compared to the other islands Maui has a diverse landscape and a combination of open spaces, the jungle waterfalls of Hana and the high mountain slopes of Haleakala are unique to all of Hawaii. Now it looks like that landscape is up for some big changes.
HC&S (Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar) was Hawaii’s last and largest sugarcane producer to end its sugar operations on Maui after 134 years. 2016 was the last harvest and the plantations 36,000 acres will be re-purposed. The company says it’s dedicated to keeping all this land in central Maui in agriculture by leasing it to farmers with priority going to the employees, over 650 of which will be out of a job at the end of 2016. A&B has not released specifics about the land’s use as of yet, but company officials have mentioned they plan to develop an agricultural park on 1000 to 2000 acres growing energy and food crops and offering irrigated pasture lands to support the islands cattle industry. Alexander & Baldwin (A&B) has been and still is one of the principal landowners on Maui since the 1870s.
All the other islands have ceased sugar production in the last two decades. Kauai, where commercial sugar cultivation started in 1835, closed its last sugar plantation in 2009 leaving only Maui’s HC&S as the last of a once mighty sugar economy. The 36,000 acres future is under consideration. Will it become a model for sustainable land use? Can it evolve into something that preserves the rural, agricultural feel of Maui? Could this become a pivotal moment in reviving the Hawaiian culture’s agricultural ways?
Ua lehulehu a manomano ka ‘ikena a ka Hawai‘i.
Great and numerous is the knowledge of the Hawaiians.
Sugar cane crops seemed to do well in Maui besides the fact that a lot of water was needed for irrigation and processing. It takes 500,000 gallons of water to process one ton of sugar. The need for water resulted in a system of ditches being built from Maui’s wet Hana side to central Maui.
By 1850 the Hawaiian government had passed laws permitting non-Hawaiians to buy land in fee simple. Known as the Great Mahele passed in 1848, these laws allowed land for sugar production and plantations. Investors went heavily into debt buying up land. By 1860 many had lost their investments and the remaining owners bought up other plantations. Hawaii’s sugar industry went through boom and bust cycles for some years, but the deciding factor came during the Civil War in the United States
The American civil war increased Hawaii’s sugar production due to the blockade of exports from the South during the war. Prices increased by 525% in 1864. This motivated many investors to take a chance in Maui. By 1860 there were 12 plantations or mills spread out among the four main islands. By 1866 there were 32.
The Puunene Sugar Mill was built in 1901 and at the time was the largest sugar mill in the state. Puunene was the world’s first fully computerized sugar mill with the capacity to process 7500 tons of sugarcane per day which resulted in 1000 tons of raw sugar!
Across the street from the sugar mill is the Sugar Museum, an independent non-profit. At one time, the mill also produced approximately 6% of Maui’s electrical power using mostly renewable sources such as hydro power from the ditch system and bagasse (cane fiber), a post processing waste which was burned as fuel for generators.
So there you have it. Maui’s open central plains will begin to see a transformation in the coming years as the transition from sugar begins. Let’s hope A&B Inc. continues the agricultural traditions that have kept Maui No Ka Oi!
Aloha Nui Loa