Hawaii’s Last Sugar Plantation Finishes Its Final Harvest

The last sugar plantation in Hawaii brought in its final haul of sugar cane Monday, marking the end of a more than century-long time period where sugar mills operated in the islands.

Heavy equipment in the sugar fields at Hawaii's last sugar plantation in Puunene, Hawaii.
This April 27, 2010, file photo shows heavy equipment in the sugar fields at Hawaii's last sugar plantation in Puunene, Hawaii. Sugar cane fields once spread across the islands, providing work to thousands of immigrants and shaping Hawaii life. Audrey McAvoy / AP

The last haul of the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company (HC&S) in Pu‘unene, Maui, was delivered to a ceremony attended by current and retired company staff, as well as elected officials including Gov. David Ige and Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa.

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“Rarely has an industry so shaped and influenced a place and helped create a culture, a fabulous, blended, multi-ethnic culture as the sugar industry did in Hawaii,” Chris Benjamin, president and CEO of parent company Alexander & Baldwin, Inc. (A&B) and general manager of HC&S, said at the ceremony. “The harmonious melting pot we enjoy in Hawaii is the perfect counter to the divisiveness and isolationism that much of the country sadly is embracing."

Hawaii's sugar industry attracted immigrant labor from East Asia and Europe and helped develop Hawaii's multicultural population, scholars have said.

Sugar plantation owners played a large part in the 1893 U.S.-backed overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the subsequent 1898 annexation of Hawaii as an American territory, which the federal government acknowledged and apologized for in 1993, calling the overthrow "illegal."

A&B announced in January that 2016 would be the last sugar harvest on its 36,000-acre plantation after a $30 million operating loss in 2015. The company said it would transition toward more diversified agriculture such as energy crops, livestock, diversified food crops, and orchard crops, due to increased international competition.

About half of HC&S’s 650 employees have already been laid off, according to Hawaii News Now, and the rest will be laid off at the end of December. One hundred and forty people have found jobs, HC&S told Hawaii News Now.

“For almost 200 years, sugar was king in these islands, making major contributions to Hawaii’s economy, but many have said that perhaps its most significant contribution has been to Hawaii’s people,” Donna Domingo, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 142 said at the ceremony. “Many of us would not be here today if not for sugar.”

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