Del Monte's departure marks shift to diversified ag
Del Monte will say aloha to Hawaii and pineapple growing here.
WHEN a Spanish adviser to King Kamehameha I introduced pineapple to the islands, he probably didn't envision that 150 years later, nearly 77,000 acres would be covered by the spiky plants and that Hawaii would supply 80 percent of the world's canned pineapple yield.
Today, the gild of profit on the golden fruit has worn thin. As happened with big sugar, labor and production costs, higher here than in other countries, has prompted companies to shut down.
Del Monte Fresh Produce's announcement this week that it would leave Hawaii traces a 40-year decline in the pineapple industry. About 700 people will lose their jobs as Del Monte phases out operations through the next three years and those who live in company housing might find themselves searching for new homes.
Though two other pineapple growers remain in the islands, the pullout marks the trailing end of an era when large plantations dominated the state's agricultural and economic landscape.
However, agriculture in Hawaii isn't dead. Diversified products have expanded to hold a strong position in the state's economy. During the economic slide of the 1990s, diversified agriculture was the only sector that grew and values have more than doubled during the past two decades.
Still, agricultural enterprises need the concentrated support of state leaders to reach their potential. Prime growing lands need protection, diversified agriculture promotion and agricultural self-sufficiency expansion, as the state Constitution prescribes.
To these ends, lawmakers last year set in motion an effort to identify land important for agriculture and provide incentives for land owners to extend long-term leases that farmers require for stability. This year a package of bills focuses on restoring aging public and private irrigation systems and promoting Hawaii agriculture along the lines that the tourism industry is cultivated. Other measures would prevent ag lands from being developed into luxury housing disguised as "gentlemen farms."
Del Monte's exit will leave 5,100 acres of Campbell Estate land lying fallow, but the Star-Bulletin's Dave Segal reports that Maui Land and Pineapple Co. is interested in the land, possibly for diversified crops. The estate had offered extended leases to Del Monte and might be willing to do the same for the Maui company.
For Del Monte workers, that development would be welcome. Though Hawaii's strong economy has a wealth of jobs available, they would need retraining and would likely earn less than their current union wages. In addition, the tight housing market would make finding a new place to live difficult.
Moreover, Hawaii needs agriculture not only to decrease reliance on imported foods, but to keep its lands green enough to lure tourists.