The End of Maui Sugarcane

The Pu‘unēnē Mill has ceased production, along with 36,000 acres of sugarcane farming in Maui’s central valley and along the island’s north shore, ending about two centuries of commercial sugar in Hawai‘i. Maui’s very identity is teetering between crisis and opportunity.

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Goodbye Sugar. Hello… What?

Story by Paul Wood | Photography by Tony Novak-Clifford


Maui photography students had the opportunity to photograph HC&S mill during a private tour. Working in groups, the students created a visual storytelling project to contemplate how photography is narrating the world. This is their final video combining each group’s work (above).

Alexander & Baldwin, Inc., spent all of 2016 shutting down its 140-year-old sugar plantation — Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company — after decades of running behind global competition. The formerly steaming mill stacks no longer tell the people of Maui which way the wind is blowing.

HC&S was the last of Hawaiʻi’s once-great sugar plantations. What phoenix will emerge from those fields?

Public reactions to this historic change have been as widespread as the plantation itself. Some residents have rejoiced over the end of cane burning — the long-standing preharvest practice of torching the ripe fields. Some have wept over the loss of employment, or of Maui’s heritage. Some have offered visions of a vast organic farm filling the island’s central plain. Others scoff at the idea. For example, the oft-cited and often sour economist Paul Brewbaker told Pacific Business News last year that “Agriculture is the last thing that is going to happen on Maui.”

Others shrug. HC&S was the last vestige of Hawai‘i’s sugar-farming tradition. Everyone saw this coming. Maui runs on tourism now. “The visitor industry remains Maui County’s most diversified and important economic engine,” says Sherry Duong, executive director of the Maui Visitors & Convention Bureau. “The closing of the plantation will not affect that status.” In fact, Duong says, “It will be exciting to see what new agritourism opportunities emerge from the cane fields.”

So, what gives, and who knows?


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1 COMMENT

  1. HC&S will most likely go with selling the cane fields to wealthy land developers who will ruin the central valley and Northshore by putting new housing developments all over the area! (farming…? For real…?)
    The once quaint and quiet Northshore will have a highway put in to replace Hana Highway so that all the malahini can get to their “gated communities!” Maui County better pass some land development restrictions NOW, before big money corrupts the outcome of Maui’s precious resources and limited infrastructure…
    What would you rather have, the cane fields and the occasional “Hawaiian snow” or tons of mainlanders swooping in to buy their new vacation homes in a gated community near you…?

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