Today (Monday, Dec. 12, 2016) marks the final cane haul for the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar (HC&S) mill in Pu`unene, Hawaii News Now reported. With no more cane burns scheduled and the final harvest winding down–parent company Alexander & Baldwin (A&B) announced the mill’s closure back in January–many workers have already been let go.
“A transition team is helping workers adjust to life after sugar,” Hawaii News Now reported. “HC&S has already laid off about half of its 650 employees. More than 140 of them have found other jobs, according to the company.”
The specifics of what exactly will happen to the company’s 36,000 acres is still largely unknown. Though A&B has said it would “pursue a diversified agricultural model,” that’s not exactly new for the company, as Maui writer and historian Jill Engledow has written.
“The plantation’s efforts at crop diversification began when founder Henry Baldwin planted rubber in Nahiku in 1907,” Engledow wrote in a Nov. 28 post on her Maui Then and Now blog. “Like many crops tried in Hawai‘i, rubber grew well but failed as a business because workers’ wages were high relative to those in other areas. Perhaps the most successful crop experiment was the planting of pineapple on 270 acres of HC&S ranch land in 1921, followed by the building of a cannery in Kahului five years later. This project became known as Maui Land & Pineapple Company when it was sold to the Cameron family in 1969. ML&P stopped producing in 2009, but old-time employees and investors began the Hali‘imaile Pineapple Company to grow the fruit on some of ML&P’s land.”
In all of this, however, it’s important to remember that while cane harvesting in Hawaii may be at an end, the plantation itself remains.
“Sugar production is ceasing, but A&B is still there,” anthropologist Carol MacLennan, author of Sovereign Sugar: Industry and Environment in Hawaii, told me back in January. “You still have a major company with say over the acreage.”
Photo of the HC&S mill: Chris Archer