Monsanto buys former Del Monte site to raise biotech corn
Former pineapple land will go biotech as site is sold
Pineapple will give way to biotech seed crops in Kunia as Monsanto Co. expands its acreage in the state by purchasing lands once tended by Del Monte Fresh Produce Hawaii.
Monsanto has entered an agreement to acquire 2,300 acres of agriculture-zoned land from the James Campbell Co.
Financially troubled Del Monte, which had grown pineapple in Hawaii for more than 100 years, exited the state suddenly last year, deciding not to wait for its pineapples to mature in 2008.
Monsanto says it will use most of the acquired land for seed crops, although 700 acres will be set aside as open space. Monsanto will also leave a former Japanese internment camp on the land undisturbed.
Monsanto Co. has agreed to buy about 2,300 acres of agricultural-zoned land in Kunia, most of which was being leased by Del Monte Fresh Pineapple before it pulled out of the state suddenly last year.
Monsanto, a global company specializing in biotech corn seed crops, will be acquiring the land from the James Campbell Co.
Terms of the sale were not disclosed.
Of the total land being purchased, about 1,600 acres are suitable for farming, while the remaining 700 will remain as open space. The land is west of Kunia Road and mauka of the H-1 freeway.
A former World War II internment camp in Honouliuli on the property will be left undisturbed, according to Monsanto Hawaii.
Monsanto also intends to set aside some of the farmable lands for the promotion of agricultural education and activities, in collaboration with nonprofit groups.
"We're extremely pleased to be able to continue our commitment to Hawaii through this transaction," said Terry Miller, Monsanto Hawaii's business manager. "As an agricultural company, we look forward to keeping these lands in productive agriculture use for the long term."
Monsanto will be planting mostly corn seed crops, according to Paul Koehler, scientific and community affairs manager.
He said there is no set schedule yet for planting. However, the firm will eventually be looking to hire.
With the sale of nearly half the former Del Monte Kunia lands, the area is undergoing an agricultural transformation.
Within the last year and a half, Pioneer Hi-Bred International and the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center purchased 414 acres, while Ed Olson, a private individual, purchased 1,276 acres from Campbell.
The seed business, worth an estimated $70 million in the 2005-2006 season, is one of the fastest-growing agricultural industries in Hawaii. It has already surpassed the total crop value of sugar, and is closing in on pineapple.
But environmentalists, who have challenged the cultivation of genetically modified crops in Hawaii, say the growing presence is alarming.
Organic farmers are also concerned, particularly about genetically modified taro.
"Kunia seems like a bad place for GMOs (genetically modified organisms) simply because other farmers are growing conventional crops in the same area," said Paul Achitoff, attorney for Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund. "Corn pollen can be distributed very widely in the form of birds and insects."
Achitoff called it shortsighted and alarming.
"We're going to likely see a point at which contaminated crops are going to be grown in Hawaii that are going to result in serious impacts to our export markets," he said.
Besides the pending Kunia acquisition, Monsanto Hawaii also recently expanded its presence on Molokai through a long-term lease for three agricultural land parcels from Molokai Properties Ltd.
Monsanto entered a 99-year lease for 1,650 acres of land around Kaunakakai, of which 1,200 acres are suitable for farming. The company had already been leasing 700 acres, and will increase its net by 500 acres.
On Oahu, CB Richard Ellis had been marketing nine Kunia agricultural parcels for Campbell.
One parcel acquired by Monsanto, measuring 1,851 acres, was listed for $28.7 million. The other parcel, measuring 437 acres, was listed for $9.6 million.
Del Monte, which used about 70 percent of the land for growing pineapple, agreed to the arrangement, according to Campbell spokeswoman Theresia McMurdo.
Del Monte, however, is still responsible for its lease of the remaining 2,000 acres, which lasts until the end of 2008.
Del Monte announced in November it was pulling out rather than waiting for the pineapples to mature the following two years.