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Hawaii Agriculture Research Center (HARC)

Hawaii's Sugar Industry


The first successful sugarcane plantation was started at Koloa, Kauai in 1835. Its first harvest in 1837 produced 2 tons of raw sugar, which sold for $200. Other pioneers, predominantly from the United States, soon began growing sugarcane on the islands of Hawaii, Maui, and Oahu.

Early sugar planters shared many problems: shortages of water and labor, trade barriers, and the lack of markets for their sugar. Together with Hawaii's isolated oceanic location, these problems created a spirit of cooperation among the planters that continues today.

Between 1852 and the end of World War II, labor shortages were eased by bringing in contract workers from Europe, North America, and Asia. Of the nearly 385,000 workers that came, many thousands stayed to become a part of Hawaii's unique ethnic mix.

Pioneer sugar planters solved water shortages in dry, leeward fields by building irrigation systems that included aqueducts (the first in 1856), artesian wells (the first in 1879), and tunnels and mountain wells (the first in 1898). These irrigation systems enabled the planters to grow sugarcane on more than 100,000 acres of arid land.

The major trade barrier to Hawaii's closest and major market for its raw sugar was eliminated by the 1876 Treaty of Reciprocity between the United States and the Kingdom of Hawaii. Through the treaty, the U.S. received a coaling station at Pearl Harbor and Hawaii's sugar planters, duty-free entry into U.S. markets for their sugar. This market was solidified with the U.S. annexation of Hawaii in 1898 after the Spanish-American War.

From 2 tons of sugar in 1837, sugar production had reached only 13,000 tons by 1876. But the reciprocity treaty and annexation changed this dramatically. By 1898, production had grown to 225,000 tons and reached one million tons by 1932. Until the mid-1980s, annual cane sugar production in Hawaii averaged one million tons.

Because Hawaii has few natural resources, most essentials must be imported-food, fuel, machinery, building materials, etc. Thus, activities capable of bringing new dollars into the economy are vital to Hawaii's balance of trade and its residents' standard of living.

For nearly a century, agriculture was the state's leading economic activity. It provided Hawaii's major sources of employment, tax revenues, and new capital through exports of raw sugar and other farm products. However, with statehood in 1959 and the almost simultaneous introduction of passenger jet airplanes, the tourist industry began to grow rapidly. Within a decade the tourist industry became the state's largest economic activity. Today, agriculture is still an important part of Hawaii's economic mix and sugar is still the second largest single crop grown in value with the largest acreage. In addition to sugar, molasses and electricity are produced. The growers primarily burn bagasse to generate electricity. The industry's use of renewable, biomass energy has helped Hawaii to retain its leadership in alternate energy production.

Sugar Lands

The Hawaiian Islands make up the United States fourth smallest state. The islands are the tops of volcanic mountains, some still active. Because of the rugged terrain and the nature of the soils, only certain low lands near coasts are tillable. The remaining land is in forest, pasture, and conservation use, or otherwise unusable.

Consequently, Hawaii's sugar companies were all located along the coastlines of the four largest islands and reach into the foothills and upward along mountain slopes. The islands of Oahu and Hawaii saw their final sugarcane harvests in 1996. Today, sugarcane is grown on about 70,000 acres on Kauai and Maui yielding some 340,000 tons of raw sugar.

Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association

On March 23,1882, sugar planters in the then Kingdom of Hawaii met and organized the Planters' Labor and Supply Company. This organization evolved into the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association (HSPA), with a change in name and bylaws in 1895, but with no break in the objectives, membership, etc. from the Planters' Labor and Supply Company.

The Association is a voluntary, nonprofit, incorporated association organized for the maintenance, advancement, improvement, and protection of the sugar industry in Hawaii and for the support of a sugarcane research station.

Companies engaged primarily in the business of growing sugarcane and manufacturing sugar are plantation members of the Association. Individuals directly connected with the direction, management, or operation of the sugar companies are individual members.

The Association's single largest program is research conducted through its Experiment Station. The Station conducts research on sugarcane for the benefit of its member companies. Research at the Station began in 1895 and has led to consistent and substantial improvements for the industry. In 1996, the Association changed its name to the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center (HARC) to reflect the broad range of crops for which it provides research.

California and Hawaiian Sugar Company

The California and Hawaiian Sugar Company (C&H) was founded in 1906 and operated from 1921 to 1993 as an agricultural cooperative marketing association owned by the member sugar companies in Hawaii. In 1993, the member companies sold their interests in C&H to Alexander & Baldwin, Inc. in Honolulu, and the refining company's status changed from a cooperative to a corporation. Alexander and Baldwin, Inc. subsequently sold its majority share to an investment group in 1998 retaining a 40% common stock interest in the recapitalized company. The C&H brand is one of the leading sugar brands in the company's markets. C&H's primary market is west of the Mississippi River, although some sugar is sold on the eastern seaboard. More than 100 types, grades, and package sizes are sold within the two major groupings of grocery and industrial products. The refinery at Crockett, California refines, packages, and markets all of the output from Hawaii's sugar factories. The C&H corporate offices are located at 830 Loring Avenue, Crockett, California 94525-1199.

Hawaii Agriculture Research Center (HARC)
Telephone: (808) 487-5561 Fax: (808) 486-5020

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