Alexander and Baldwin has a farming partner out of California who wants to grow various crops on Maui, company representatives told a state panel on O‘ahu. “We’re pursuing and have had inquiry from a farming partner out of California, and they have an interest in farming nearly the whole footprint of land. We’re in discussions with them looking at growing a whole variety of food crops,” A&B’s general manager of diversified agriculture on Maui, Darren Strand, told members of the Board of Land and Natural Resources during the Nov. 9 meeting. The statements were part of A&B’s request to renew its permit allowing it to take 80 million gallons per day of stream water from state lands.
“This group has an aligned vision with ours, they have extensive farming expertise, a solid source of funding, established marketing channels, and also an interest in the entire footprint, which is a combination of promising attributes that we haven’t seen from the any of the hundreds of other parties that we’ve talked to in the past,” said A&B Vice President Meredith Ching. “They’re in their final stages of feasibility analysis of a farming operation, at the end of scale, to plant the entire plantation footprint and if they decide to proceed, planting will possibly begin in 2019.”
This would seem to conflict with the heavily circulating rumors that a Canadian pension fund is finalizing plans to buy 55,000 acres of A&B’s agricultural holdings on Maui, although informed sources say the pension fund is the source of the funding that A&B referenced.
Strand acknowledged that A&B, as a publicly traded company, could not disclose details of the discussions. However, he stated that A&B has been sharing “extensive data” with the California group during recent months.
“We can talk about the plans we have this year,“ Strand said. “There’s an expansion of the pasture area, an area of beverage crops or coffee on the Kihei side, orchard crops and tropical fruits, and row crops on the West Maui portion: greens, alfalfa, berries. There’s land set aside for local farmer candidates and the agricultural park. The plan is to grow food crops, and we understand the nature of the local markets so the plan is to provide food for the local market as well as export.”
The California group has “a lot of expertise on the global food market,” Strand added.
A&B did not respond to phone and email requests for comment regarding the California partnership or the rumored final stages of a 55,000-acre sale to a Canadian pension fund.
BLNR approved A&B’s request for a third holdover permit to continue water diversion of East Maui streams, with an amendment including the formation of an “interim committee to discuss water usage issues in the license area.” The committee will consist of five members representing Alexander & Baldwin, Farm Bureau, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, and the County of Maui, and will meet once a month for the first quarter, then at least quarterly thereafter.
The Sierra Club Hawai‘i verbally requested a contested case following the panel’s decision, citing a lack of information about A&B’s water usage and future land use plans. “The Land Board has a legal obligation to ensure they are approving permits for water uses that is reasonable and beneficial,” said Lucienne de Naie, vice chair of the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi, in a statement. “A&B has not presented specific information about their current water needs from the East Maui streams, their current water use from other sources not subject to these permits and leases, nor a timetable for their future needs. We have no idea how much water they used last year and no idea what they will need for next year.”
Papers for the contested case will be filed by the end of the week, de Naie said, and BLNR will determine whether a contested case hearing shall proceed.
“We want to make sure the Land Board get the facts they need to manage the publicʻs resources like the valuable assets they are,” said Marti Townsend, director for the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi. “There is no point in imposing conditions if there is no way for the Land Board to verify actual compliance.”
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