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Maui Sugar: End of an Era – What Will Happen to the View From Above?

Posted November 27, 2016, 11:57 PM HST Updated November 29, 2016, 09:12 AM HST
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With the final harvest nearing an end at Maui’s Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company, we asked company executives what will happen to the landscape as the island enters a post-sugar operation.

For those that have flown in to Kahului Airport, including tourists and visitors alike, the fields of cane have served as a green welcome-carpet of sorts to those arriving on Maui.  Will that green turn into a brown dust bowl, or be replaced by a different crop going forward?

HC&S General Manager, Rick Volner tells Maui Now, “You’re probably going to see a number of different things and it’s going to change based on the time of year and how long we are post-sugar.”

Volner said the company is doing a number of things as part of its crop residual management program. “When we made the announcement in January, we made the decision to only harvest for one year–and in Hawaiʻi we grow sugar cane for two years.  So obviously half of the crop that had been planted as late as December of last year is actually still in the ground and growing,” said Volner.

“What we’ve done is come in and mulched a lot of that young cane and so we’ve laid that vegetative material on the ground.  And that’s really to serve a couple of different purposes, but mainly for soil erosion to minimize or limit the amount of soil that erodes based on water and wind,” Volner explained.

“Unfortunately it’s not going to be lush and green, but it will hopefully keep the dust down,” he said.

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In other areas, Volner said, the company is planting cover crops.  This is the case for a number of areas that are sensitive to wind erosion and rain erosion–along highways and residential areas.  “So those areas will tend to be more green because they’re actually planted crops specifically to hold down our erosion,” said Volner.

“And then of course we’re working on expanding our diversified ag operation, and so hopefully that will promote a lot of the similar green, lush type of surroundings that you see now with the sugar cane,” he said.

In terms of the final harvest, Volner said, “We project it to be a bigger harvest than what we’ve done in the last two years, which is good.  But there’s still a number of things like costs and you know other financial impacts that we’re still assessing.”

Because it’s a shut-down, HC&S is still working out financial details like writing off assets and taking care of reserves and liabilities.  “We’ve really been on the ground operationally focused on getting the sugar crop in.  You know and that’s really where it starts.”

As the last harvest at Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company nears its end, we continue to bring you stories from the front lines as part of our Maui Sugar: End of an Era series.  Check back for more.

Wendy Osher
Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served more than 15 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations.

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