East Hawaii News

Hawai’i’s Last Sugar Plantation Plans Transition

January 6, 2016, 4:56 PM HST
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HC&S Puʻunēnē Mill. Photo credit: Wendy Osher/MauiNow.com.

HC&S Puʻunēnē Mill. Photo credit: Wendy Osher/MauiNow.com.

Hawai’i’s last sugar plantation plans to transition out of farming sugar.

Alexander & Baldwin, Inc. announced Wednesday that the company will instead reach for a diversified agricultural model for its 36,000 acre Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company plantation on Maui.

By the end of 2016, the company plans to phase out its sugar operations and will transfer over to a new model over multiple years.

The company says no immediate layoffs will take place. However, only half of the 675 employees will be kept through the end of the sugar harvest in late 2016.

Layoffs are expected to begin in March and will occur as their functions are completed.

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“A&B’s roots literally began with the planting of sugar cane on 570 acres in Makawao, Maui 145 years ago,” said Stanley M. Kuriyama, A&B executive chairman. “Much of the state’s population would not be in Hawai’i today, myself included, if our grandparents or great-grandparents had not had the opportunity to work on the sugar plantations.

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“A&B has demonstrated incredible support for HC&S over these many years, keeping our operation running for 16 years after the last sugar company on Maui closed its doors. We have made every effort to avoid having to take this action. However, the roughly $30 million Agribusiness operating loss we expect to incur in 2015, and the forecast for continued significant losses, clearly are not sustainable, and we must now move forward with a new concept for our lands that allows us to keep them in productive agricultural use.”

A&B President and Chief Executive Officer Christopher J. Benjamin said that it was a sad day for A&B and that reaching the decision was with “great regret.”

“Having had the privilege of working alongside the employees of HC&S for two years, I know firsthand the professionalism and dedication with which they perform their jobs. The longevity of the plantation is a testament to their resourcefulness and hard work,” said Benjamin. “This transition will certainly impact these employees and we will do everything we can to assist them. The cessation of sugar operations also will have a significant impact on the Maui community and we will do our best to minimize that impact.”

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Governor David Ige released a statement on the closure Wednesday afternoon, noting that despite the “end of an era,” the transition will bring “a golden opportunity.”

“It is with sadness that I received the news that Alexander & Baldwin will transition out of sugar farming after 145 years. This is a significant historic marker for Hawai‘i, the end of an era that touched the lives of generations of hardworking, local families.

“However, A&B will now pursue diversified agriculture – a golden opportunity for the state to focus on renewable energy and food security.

“My administration will work with A&B to help guide the transition. Rapid Response teams from the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations will be deployed to assist displaced workers with unemployment compensation, career transition, training for new jobs, and job placement. DLIR will also work with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

“A&B has played a significant role in the state’s economy and has supported our local communities for many years. The state will continue to partner with A&B to ensure its success.”

The last Big Island sugar plantation, Ka’u Agribusiness Company, shut its doors in 1996. It followed Hamakua Sugar Company in 1993 and Hilo Coast Processing Company in 1994.

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