The Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company announced today that they will be shutting down commercial sugar cane operations on Maui by the end of 2016. This is huge news for Maui. A&B (Alexander and Baldwin) operates the State’s largest farm (HC&S) with 36,000 acres under cultivation. They also operate the last remaining sugar cane factory in Hawai’i (just outside Kahului). Check out the Sugar Museum for more information about sugar cane but also Maui’s history – the farm has been in operation for 145 years.
Sugar cane farming has become very controversial on Maui. On the one side there are those with asthma and health problems whose health is directly affected by the sugar cane burning. On the other side are those who see sugar cane as an important part of Maui’s history, culture and economy. As an outsider it is better not to get involved and to keep opinions to oneself as both sides are very vocal and passionate.
According to today’s press release, HC&S plans to lay off half their employees and try other crops. It will be interesting to see how the irrigated green Central Maui valley changes. Towards Lahaina there are many deserted former cane and pineapple fields that have been laying bare for years now, overgrown with Keawe and brown-looking.
On a personal note, when we still had our dairy farm in Chilliwack, BC, we imported molasses from Maui’s sugar mill. The molasses was then mixed into the TMR ration fed to our milking herd. I still remember the big tanker truck full of molasses pulling into our farm yard, filling our large molasses tank. Why feed cows molasses? It’s sweet and made their feed (a mixture of grass and corn silage, alfalfa, hay, grains and minerals) taste better. In turn they ate more and then produced more milk. (I am a city slicker – when I first married Sig and became involved in the farm I was surprised at just how scientific farming really is).
Back to the sugar cane, it’s the end of an era. I hope the new business venture will be economically feasible while giving those with asthma the much-sought relief they have sought.