Maui’s HC&S Was Constantly Innovating

This is an excerpt from Sugarcane Days, due on the island any day now!

Innovation was an everyday thing at midcentury HC&S. Safer, easier, cheaper—these were goals for everyone, from supervisors at “work simplification” conferences to the workers who informally fine-tuned the processes they performed. Isolated in the middle of the Pacific before the days of container ships and big-box stores, the plantation and its people were ingenious by necessity. Almost every piece of equipment used, from field to mill, was fabricated or modified to meet the plantation’s requirements. Everything that could be was recycled, well before that word became popular. From the beginning, founder H. P. Baldwin planned Pu‘unene Mill to reuse cane-cleaning water, rather than dumping it into the ocean as other plantations did.  Adobe Photoshop PDF

Many issues of the company newspaper, the HC&S Breeze, featured stories and photos about innovations. Some were tiny but significant. One example: Seed cutter Hemogene Agatol put together a Y-shaped prop with field rubbish to hold a stalk of cane and limit the stooping required to cut it. His field invention was so successful that the company made similar props out of iron, and all seed cutters began using them.

Some experimentation was essential to the plantation’s continued existence. Horticulturists searched for new cane varieties to beat diseases like “red rot,” which threatened the crop in a 1958 outbreak, and to increase productivity by decreasing drought sensitivity. Over many years, researchers were able to improve cane varieties so that they required minimal pesticide use. A predator brought in to wipe out the destructive leaf hopper in 1905 was the first biological control agent; eventually all insect pests were under bio control.

The plantation’s efforts at crop diversification began when founder Henry Baldwin planted rubber in Nahiku in 1907. Like many crops tried in Hawai‘i, rubber grew well but failed as a business because workers’ wages were high relative to those in other areas. Perhaps the most successful crop experiment was the planting of pineapple on 270 acres of HC&S ranch land in 1921, followed by the building of a cannery in Kahului five years later. This project became known as Maui Land & Pineapple Company when it was sold to the Cameron family in 1969. ML&P stopped producing in 2009, but old-time employees and investors began the Hali‘imaile Pineapple Company to grow the fruit on some of ML&P’s land. 

 While many things would grow on HC&S land, changing economic conditions dictated what could be grown profitably. Over the years, HC&S tried corn, tea, taro, citrus, cacao, cassava, fodder crops, patchouli, papaya, alfalfa, sugar beets, sorgo grass, macadamia nuts, ramie (used for making cloth), and trees grown for timber. Obviously none of those worked out, or we’d see fields full of them now. Instead, we have HC&S and other Maui farmers mulling what to do with all those acres, as one by one the fields are burned and cleared of the last sugar harvest.

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