MAUI (KHON2) — There’s new life for old sugar cane land on Maui.
Mahi Pono planted its first crops on Friday since purchasing more than 41,000 acres from Alexander and Baldwin last year.
Mahi Pono executives called the event a historic moment for Maui as it transitions towards diversified agriculture. Lawmakers say the ceremonial event signals the return of active agricultural production to Central Maui and the re-greening of the central plain.
“Flying in from Oahu, it just broke my heart to see how dry it was,” said Rep. Troy Hashimoto. “So I was just so excited to see the plantings begin.”
The first crop is on 40 acres and includes yellow, white and red potatoes, which will be ready for harvest in approximately three months.
According to Mahi Pono, the choice in crop was two-fold–first looking at ways to become more sustainable by replacing imported products with those that are locally grown.
“In addition, the soil will do other things to help our soil re-mediate itself,” said Mahi Pono Senior Vice President of Operations Shan Tsutsui. “There’s I think the opportunities for us to kind of move forward on a crop that wouldn’t need windbreaks to be put up ahead of time was also another factor of why potatoes were first.”
The ceremonial planting occurred as a 200 acre fire burned to the northeast in old sugar cane lands in Paia. We asked company managers what’s being done to maintain their thousands of acres that are still un-planted, amid the summer fire season.
Mahi Pono General Manager of Farming Operations Darren Strand: “We’re maintaining firebreaks and we’re trying to reduce risk in areas that we know will have either high susceptibility to fire or potential damage to structures or risk to people.”
As part of the maintenance strategy Strand says large firebreaks have been cut along Haleakala Highway, below the Pukalani community and around the Maui Baseyard. Over the next 3.5 years, Strand says all of the company’s acreage will have some type of crop on it
“Most of it permanent crops like citrus, avacados, macadamia nuts and coffee,” said Strand. “So as we move into that, certainly, the first step for us is planting potatoes in moving towards converting all these brown, dry acres into viable crop land.”
Other crops scheduled for planting in 2019 include avacados and papayas.
This is in addition to forage and cover crops that are currently being planted.
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