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article imageEnd of an era: Hawaii's last sugar mill wraps up final harvest

By Karen Graham     Dec 13, 2016 in Business
Puunene - Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company on Maui, Hawaii made its last sugar cane haul on Monday, ending 145 years of business. Hundreds of retirees and workers were on hand to witness the end of an era on the islands.
Parent company, Alexander & Hamilton announced in early January they would be transitioning the 36,000-acre sugar plantation to pursue a diversified agricultural model, citing the $30 million agribusiness loss it suffered in 2015.
"Hawaii produced over a million tons of sugar per year for over 50 years. At one time that was 20 percent of all the sugar that was consumed in the United States," says Robert Osgood, a retired consultant for the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center and co-author of From King Cane to the Last Sugar Mill.
Many of the workers at the sugar plantation aren't sure what they will do next, says the Associated Press. Some, like 60-year-old Manuel Vierra, have worked at the sugar mill all their lives. "I was 18. So I've been working all the way straight through. Never know a day without work. I going know now, though, after everything is done with," said the crane driver.
Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company Mill  Puʻunene  Maui — Hawaii. From Old Puunene Road leading ...
Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company Mill, Puʻunene, Maui — Hawaii. From Old Puunene Road leading to plantation camp town.
Joel Bradshaw
"The community on Maui has changed quite a bit," said Rick Volner, general manager at the sugar plantation, reports US News and World Report. "We've got a lot more urbanized areas and some of the nuisances that are associated with agriculture, especially sugar cane, definitely contributed to that."
Sugar cane cultivation was brought to Hawaii's shores by the early Polynesians, and by the mid-1800s had been expanded into a commercial crop. By the beginning of the 20th century, the introduction of sugar cane varieties, irrigation system, fertilizers and biological pest control and the use of steam power in the mills had helped to make sugar cane king.
Sugar plantations managed to survive the Great Depression and low sugar prices, as well as the labor shortages of WWII. But in the following decades, sugar plantations began to close. By the 1970s, there were only 27 plantations, and by the year 2000, there were only four.
By 2011, only one sugar company remained — Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company. The company has seen increased competition worldwide and has faced legal battles over water rights and the public health effects of burning cane leaves. All this went into the decision to transition the land into a diversified agricultural model.
More about sugar mill, six generations, Maui, Sugar Cane, agribusiness
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