Gay & Robinson’s departure means Hawaii has only one sugar grower left
By Allison Schaefers
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Oct 31, 2009
WAIMEA, Kauai » The sugar workers bringing in the last harvest at centuries-old Gay & Robinson had tears in their eyes, but this time it was not from the smoke and burning caramel smell that accompanies cane processing.
Amid a chorus of honking trucks, employees escorted Kauai’s last load of sugar cane from the field to the mill yesterday. Along the way, they paid homage to West Kauai, and the community responded in kind.
The convoy began at Makaweli Post Office and proceeded through Waimea Town, around the West Kauai Technology Center and into Hanapepe before stopping at Kaumakani Mill where the workers rode up the dusty drive like returning war heroes. They are the last of their kind on Kauai, the island that ushered in the state’s centuries-old sugar tradition with the opening of the first successful sugar mill in Koloa in 1835. They are the end of an era.
Yesterday, Gay & Robinson announced that they would cease sugar operations on Kauai this fall, a year earlier than they had previously announced. This will mark the end of sugar production on Kauai.
When Gay & Robinson first announced its intentions in July 2007, there was anticipation that a partnership with Pacific West Energy LLC would merely shift the sugar cane business from consumable sugar to the production of ethanol. Those plans never met fruition.
With the end of sugar production on Kauai, only Maui’s Alexander & Baldwin’s Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. remains as the only producers of sugar cane in Hawaii. Poor economic conditions and drought conditions on Maui have cast a shadow on the future of sugar on Maui.
It is not beyond comprehension that within a few short years, Hawaii’s two iconic agricultural products, sugar cane and pineapple, may be no more. Currently Maui Land & Pineapple Co. Inc. is the only remaining producer of pineapple in Hawaii. Cheaper sources of pineapple elsewhere in the world and huge financial losses have cast doubt about the future of that operation as well.
Applications are now being accepted for the Monsanto Hawaii Science Education Fund. This Monsanto Fund grant program is open to public schools serving students at the intermediate, high school and college grade levels on the islands of Maui, Molokai, Oahu, and Kauai.
Established in 2005, the Fund helps provide Hawaii public schools with programs, tools, supplies and equipment to enhance science education in the schools, and encourage today’s students to consider a future career in the sciences.
Monsanto’s recent round of grants supported a wide variety of educational endeavors such as alternative energy solutions, forensic studies, biotechnology studies, an aquaponics facility, solar powered cars, hydroponic lab, robotics competitions, and supplies and equipment for courses in chemistry, biology, and agriculture.
Maggie Cox makes a good point. If public libraries on rural islands are to be closed to save the state some money, it’s only fair that libraries on Oahu share the pain.
Cox represents Kauai on the Board of Education and though none of the libraries at the top of the list for shuttering are on the Garden Island, Cox speaks in defense of the stepchildren of the state.
They are the Cinderella regions of Hawaii, exploited for the natural beauty they have largely retained while most of Oahu has been so disfigured it is no longer eligible for the tourism image of unspoiled paradise.
They are expected to do the heavy lifting for undesirable projects like prisons and military training grounds, but stand at the back of the line for the good stuff like technologically top-grade schools and medical facilities.
KAPA‘A — What began as an informational meeting about the designation of important agricultural lands turned into a heated discussion about Kaua‘i’s agricultural future.
Dr. Karl Kim, a professor at the UH Department of Urban and Regional Planning, presented a slide show of the Koloa-Po‘ipu pilot agricultural lands study he and his colleagues conducted for the Land Use Commission. He was the guest speaker at the monthly Wailua-Kapa’a Neighborhood Association meeting Monday night at the Kapa’a Library.
Wall Street is as far as you can get from the 8-acre Steelgrass Farm in Kauai where the main attraction is chocolate, but the trickle-down impacts have made for bittersweet returns.
"We just got turned down for a loan again," said Tony Lydgate, who helped his children, Emily and Will, purchase Steelgrass Farm in the 1990s. "Our revenues are in the low six figures, but we can’t even get a $20,000 line of credit."
The Lydgates, who have about half of all the cacao trees on Kauai, offer tours to supplement their farming income. Still, they need more capital to establish an agricultural cooperative that harvests cacao for commercial distribution.
"We can’t expand at the speed that we would like, too," Lydgate said.
The Lydgates are not alone. As the economy has slumped, more farmers in Hawaii and elsewhere have found that the crop of loans available to them has withered.
CLICK HERE to view the PDF file for the Hawaii Aquaculture Report. Please visit the website for more information: http://www.nass.usda.gov/hi/ ————————————————————- Contact Information: Mark E. Hudson, Director USDA NASS Hawaii Field Office 1421 South King Street Honolulu, HI 96814-2512 Office: (808) 973-9588 / (800) 804-9514 Fax: (808) 973-2909 ————————————————————- "HAWAII AQUACULTURE" reports are available on our website and also PRINTED annually. Subscriptions for PRINTED copies are free to those persons who report agricultural data to NASS (upon request) and available for $2 per year to all others.
Hawaii grown aquaculture reached a record $34.7 million in 2008, increasing 38 percent from 2007. Algae sales accounted for 45 percent of the value and amounted to $15.7 million. Finfish sales by weight valued at $7.0 million, comprised 20 percent of the total. The ornamental category was pegged at $3.3 million or 10 percent of the total. The ‘other’ category includes seed stock, brood stock, and other items counted by number, accounted for 24 percent or $8.3 million. Hawaii County continued to lead the State in aquaculture sales with $27.8 million or 80 percent of the total value. Sales from Honolulu, Kauai and Maui Counties accounted for the remaining 20 percent.
And so, it seems, is the reality of the state’s budget crisis, with The Advertiser reporting today that proposed layoffs in the Department of Agriculture could imperil food imports and exports.
On the import side, [Big Island Rep. Clifton] Tsuji said, he’s already heard from a major produce importer who warned that a dramatic slowdown in the time it takes to have items inspected could spell the end of the import of certain types of lettuce or other food products that perish easily. "If they don’t have the inspectors, they might have to cease importing these items," Tsuji said.
It’s a double-edged sword. If some stuff’s not coming in, it could increase demand for locally-grown veggies and so spur production. But if we don’t have enough inspectors, it harms exporters, who are a major force in Hawaii’s diversified ag sector. It also increases the risk of more pest species being introduced, which is a major concern for the native environment, farmers and our overall quality of life.
It raises, once again, the question of whether Hawaii is serious about ensuring that agriculture is part of its future.
That question will be front and center as Kauai goes through the process of identifying its Important Ag Lands. We’re the first county to do such a study, which is mandated by Act 233. Dr. Karl Kim of UH has been awarded the county contract, and he’ll be talking about the process at a meeting set for 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 24 at the Kapaa Library.
I was talking to Farmer Jerry the other day, and he said the most important message that needs to be conveyed about the IAL process is “it’s not gonna be the third Mahele for the developers.”
Kaua‘i now imports approximately 90% of its daily food. This situation renders us vulnerable to interruptions in shipping, rising fuel costs and an increasing scarcity of certain foods in the face of rising world population. Some experts claim that the demand for food has already exceeded the supply. These conditions invite predictions of serious food shortages for our island at the same time that profits from our food expenditures are going to off-island suppliers rather than strengthening our local economy.
On the average the entire State only produces somewhere between 4.4 to 5.8 percent of our food supply. Specialists at the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agricultural have pointed out that if we doubled our production of local food we would be avoiding $120 million in imports and creating more than 3,000 jobs. Farm related business income would increase, they predict, by about $64 million, and of course, other economic benefits would occur. Similar estimates regarding the benefits of increasing local food production have been suggested by Governor Lingle and also by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.