The End of Sugar on Kauai – Is This the Beginning of the End for Hawaii’s Iconic Agricultural Products?

Thursday September 24, 2009

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.

Despite promises to retain these former sugar and pineapple lands as agricultural land, efforts at new diversified agriculture have met with only moderate success. In some areas former sugar and pineapple lands remain unused and often subject to erosion.

It’s hard to believe that, should sugar and pineapple production cease completely in Hawaii, these lands would be allowed to remain unused. This means only one thing – development. Can you imagine the vast sugar fields of central Maui someday being filled with houses, shopping centers and other commercial enterprises? Surely in some areas we’ll see more condominiums and hotels. Most surely one thing we’ll see is more people stressing the already overtaxed infrastructure of the islands. For me, that is a nightmare that I don’t want to see.

Some historians will argue, correctly, that sugar and pineapple are not native to Hawaii or even the Pacific. Sugar cane, in particular, is a water hog that consumes vast amounts of Hawaii’s sparse fresh water supply. While accurate, these two crops have for last century and a half ensured that large portions of land remain undeveloped.

One can argue that sugar and pineapple have been doomed in Hawaii for many years as the world’s third world suppliers of these products have undercut any possibility of successful agricultural efforts in the United States.

Just a few years ago a thriving economy and numerous plans for other agricultural uses of these lands cast an optimistic outlook for what would follow once sugar and pineapple died. The current economic situation has created a perfect storm and the future currently looks bleak indeed.

The End of Sugar on Kauai – Is This the Beginning of the End for Hawaii’s Iconic Agricultural Products?

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