“Conventional” cultivation plans announced for most of the old sugar cane fields

What will be the fate of the lands of the Central Maui Valley?

Alexander and Baldwin today announced the sale of some 41,000 acres of land from the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company – an action first reported last month by MauiTime. The land was sold for $ 262 million to Mahi Pono, LLC – a farming business between California farm group Pomona Farming, LLC and Canadian pension fund managers. Public Sector Pension Investment Board.

“The agreement provides for the sale of the former land of the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company to Mahi Pono LLC (Mahi Pono) for the purpose of cultivating a variety of food and energy crops, ensuring the continued agricultural use of these lands, preserving green, open space in central Maui and a consistent, long-term source of income for the local economy, ”A&B said in a statement.

“Our agricultural plan is for conventional production, but we are also exploring options for some organic production,” said a spokeswoman for Mahi Pono. MauiTime. The plans do not include genetically modified organisms (GMOs), she added.

Neither Mahi Pono nor A&B were able to provide a map detailing the plan of the land purchased, but said they hoped to share this information early next year.

“Our priority is to produce high quality food for the local market, with export potential,” she said, but did not disclose the area that would be used for local food compared to exports. . When asked how many acres would be set aside for local farmers, she said, “We will be reaching out to the local farming community over the next few months to discuss the best ways to support local farmers.

“Maui is a special place that will have its own farming plan, but the Pomona team is committed to its history of employing best farming practices, using natural resources responsibly and acting as a positive contributor to the local community, ”added the spokesperson. .

MauiTime reported on the final stages of the sale of A&B land in the Central Valley as news of the deal circulated widely last month, sparking public interest and concern over the fate of the former cane lands sugar.

“It was revealed that A&B was close to making a sale to a group outside of Hawaii. This revelation raises some questions, ”said then Bill Greenleaf, farmer, co-owner of Greenleaf Farms and former president of the Hawai’i Farmers Union chapter. “What are they going to grow? Will it feed the people of Hawaii or will it be non-food crops? Will their cultivation practices add more runoff to our reefs and CO2 to our air? “

Based in the town of Oakdale in the San Joaquin Valley, Pomona Farming owns some 100,000 acres of agricultural crops and ranching operations. Crops include alfalfa, almonds, cotton, forage crops, sugar beets, and wheat, among others. Its partners include big names like Sunkist, Mariani, Toyota, 7-11, Kind, Kraft and Glico, and local names like MauiGrown Coffee and Maui Cattle Company.

“The Mahi Pono team has significant experience… with a focus solely on agriculture and experience in making long-term investments in agricultural projects,” said the A&B press release. “All existing A&B agricultural staff will be offered positions at Mahi Pono, to put their experience and knowledge to work to help advance Mahi Pono’s agricultural plan.

While the name of the procuring entity is now public, details of plans for the central Maui Valley – which has been identified as important in Hawaii’s movement towards food security and sustainability – remain unclear.

“Maui Tomorrow is examining the implications of this major development,” the environmental organization said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the new owner, Mahi Pono, and will encourage them to adopt regenerative farming methods. Regenerative agriculture uses much less water; this will leave more for kalo ranching, native stream life, and other public trust uses in the streams. Regenerative agriculture can dramatically increase crop yields while sequestering carbon, thus helping to combat climate change. We will also be encouraging Mahi Pono to grow healthy foods that the people of Maui can eat. “

Hawai’i Farmers Union United president Vincent Mina was cautious but hopeful.

“When you are dealing with so much land that has been monocultured with petrochemicals used as a way to cultivate this monoculture for a long time, it requires a lot of sanitation attention. People who buy land this size need a return on their investment, so a lot of people, when they do [purchase], do not necessarily focus on cultivating the soil first, growing the life of the earth first, before planting crops, ”he said.

“I don’t know about this company, I’m not going to say that they’re not going to do these kinds of stewardship practices, but at the same time – depending on the results – we’ll see what happens.”

“I know people are going to be unhappy with this sale,” he added. “For me, I don’t get too attached to it. I just feel like we have a lot to work with. Let’s get down to business and do our best with what we have.

“I think where we shoot ourselves in the foot is we go out and put a stick in someone’s eye or in the eye of the company, and then say, ‘Hey, I want to build a relationship with you, “” Mina continued. “It does not work like that. It’s about relationships not just with each other but with the land and I just hope that along the way we can be good partners, good community farming partners, and we can find ways to work with each other.

Maui state senators were optimistic.

Senators Gilbert Keith-Agaran (District 5-Wailuku, Waihe’e, Kahului), Rosalyn Baker (District 6-South and West Maui), and J. Kalani English (District 7-Hana, East and Upcountry Maui, Moloka’i , Lana’i and Kaho’olawe) issued a joint statement praising the agreement.

“I am happy that A&B has found farmers as partners who are committed to keeping central Maui in productive agriculture – especially because Mahi Pono seems to understand the importance of food sustainability for the long term. term of our island community, ”said Senator Agaran.

Senator Baker added: “This is an important investment in our future, because it once again demonstrates the viability of diversified agriculture, but also because of the value it places on our workers, on our environment and our quality of life.

“There are a lot of moving parts here,” Mina said. “I am a farmer: I grow food so that people can feel good. Other than that, I really have nothing to say about when the land sales take place, and the companies that buy the land do what they do. I’m glad it’s kept in agriculture. These are incredible lands. ”

Photo courtesy of Alexander and Baldwin



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