Hawaii sugar interests have decided to end sugarcane production in the state. This story reported by Brenton Awa of KITV Island News.
KAHULUI, Hawaii - The year 2016 will mark the end of an era in Hawaii. After 180 years in the state, the sugar industry is shutting down. Hawaii's last remaining plantation is phasing out it's sugar operations this year. As the industry goes away, so does jobs.
The Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company on Maui said it'll be laying off 675 employees by the end of this year. What was once the foundation of Hawaii's economy will soon be history.
"If you told somebody in 1950 when sugar was the absolute foundation of the entire economy in the Hawaiian islands that the day was going to come when sugar was going to end they would not have believed you, it would be impossible to comprehend, and here we are," said DeSoto Brown, a historian at Bishop Museum.
Brown says Wednesday's announcement was momentous. He points out how sugar cane not only re-shaped our land by way of water diversions and the vast amount of farm lands needed for growing, but Brown says to look at the people who live here.
"The reason the Hawaiian islands population is so diverse is primarily because of the sugar industry," said Brown.
The company says the cuts will start in March.
"I certainly am hopeful that they will find great opportunities and in the long run this will be a positive thing but we're certainly not seeing a lot of silver lining other than the fact that we remain committed to our employees and we're going to do what we can to make this as minimally painful as possible," said Christopher Benjamin, President of Alexander & Baldwin.
Alexander and Baldwin president Christopher Benjamin said his company has made every effort to avoid layoffs but it expects to incur a $30-million operating loss for 2015.
"We've always taken a very long-term view of the business. We've lost money in the past and not chosen to shut down the plantation or seize sugar operations but in this case we saw more of the same in our future. So while we lost money in the past, we've always sought out towards recovery and in this case we frankly did not," said Benjamin.
Moving forward, the company says it will be transitioning it's 36,000 acre plantation on Maui towards smaller farms and varied agricultural uses potentially including food and energy crops, cattle, and the development of an agriculture park where residents would be able to grow crops.
"All this contention that's been building regarding water rights and came burning that's pau now and now we can move forward together and it's a real opportunity for a new unity on our island," said Representative Kaniela Ing (D) Kihei, Wailea, Makena.
Looking back at history, the production of sugar cane in 2014 was down to 1.3 million tons. It's been dropping steadily every year since 1982 when Hawaii was producing nearly 9-million tons of sugar cane. Some industry insiders believe the end of sugar cane in Hawaii was inevitable.
"It's going to be a hard transition so I think that compassion has to be given because it's been generations of families in the sugar plantation and it's unique it's like no other industry," said Donna Domingo, President of the ILWU. READ MORE