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Future of Maui Sugar Plantation Unclear

Matt Thayer / Maui
Matt Thayer / Maui
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Sugar cane was once Hawaii’s most important crop - but today only one sugar plantation remains in the state.  That’s Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar on Maui, but they are now considering changing their crop.  Eileen Chao has more from The Maui News. 

It’s been a rough summer for Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar’s cane growing operations here on Maui. Hawaii saw more rain this summer than it has in 30 years.  Those heavy downpours have made harvesting the crop difficult and expensive.  HC&S reported $9 million in operating losses in the 3rd quarter. The plantation could produce only forty-two and a half thousand tons of sugar from July through September.  That’s twenty-five thousand tons less than the amount sugar produced in the same months last year. 

The plantation’s money troubles have caused parent company Alexander & Baldwin to reconsider its agribusiness on Maui.  A&B President and Chief Operating Officer Chris Benjamin told investors recently that the company intends to “implement changes.”  He said more resources will be dedicated to exploring “alternative business models,” which could mean a move away from sugar cane. The company has considered growing biocrops like sorghum or bana grass, but officials say it’s hard to make the transition cost-effective.

HC&S currently grows sugar cane on thirty-six thousand acres in Central Maui.  Officials said a decision would be made about the future of HC&S by the company’s next earnings call. That typically takes place in February or early March.

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