Reactions have been rolling in as Alexander & Baldwin announced that it is transitioning out of farming sugar and will instead pursue a diversified agricultural model for its 36,000-acre Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company plantation on Maui. Sugar operations will be phased out by the end of 2016, and the transition to a new model will occur over a multi-year period. No immediate layoffs will result from today’s announcement and approximately half of the 675 employees will be retained through the end of the sugar harvest, which is expected to be completed late in 2016.
Under the new diversified model, the plantation is planned to be divided up into smaller farms with varied agricultural uses, potentially including energy crops, food crops, support for the local cattle industry, and the development of an agriculture park.
“Transitioning HC&S to a diversified agribusiness model underscores A&B’s commitment to the community and our intention to keep these lands in active agricultural use,” said Benjamin. “It will take time but, if successful, these efforts could support the goals of food and energy self-sufficiency for Hawaii, preserve productive agricultural lands, and establish new economic engines for Maui and the state.”
“A&B is committed to looking for optimal productive agricultural uses for the HC&S lands,” said Benjamin. “Community engagement, resource stewardship, food sustainability and renewable energy are all being considered as we define the new business model for the plantation. These are leading us toward a more diversified mix of operations.”
The Company is evaluating several categories of potential replacement agricultural activities. These include energy crops, agroforestry, grass-finished livestock operations, diversified food crops, and orchard crops, among others.
Initial projects include:
Energy crops: Building upon its extensive experience with crop-to-energy production, HC&S has initiated crop trials to evaluate potential sources of feedstock for anaerobic conversion to biogas. This on-farm testing currently is being expanded from plot to field-scale and HC&S has entered into a confidential memorandum of understanding with local and national partners to explore market opportunities for biogas. HC&S also is assessing the potential of cultivating purpose-grown oilseed crops for biodiesel production and has entered into preliminary, but confidential, discussions with other bioenergy industry players to explore additional crop-to-energy opportunities.
Support for the local cattle industry: The Company is exploring the costs and benefits of irrigated pasture to support the production of grass-finished beef for the local market. HC&S has converted a test site of former sugar land to cultivated pasture and is working with Maui Cattle Company to conduct a grass-finishing pasture trial in 2016. High-quality grazing lands could enable Maui’s cattle ranchers to expand their herds and keep more cattle in Hawaii for finishing on grass.
Food crops/Agriculture park: A&B plans to establish an agriculture park on former sugar lands in order to provide opportunities for farmers to access these agricultural lands and support the cultivation of food crops on Maui. HC&S employees will be given preference to lease lots from the company to start their own farming operations.