Big Isle grower drops bananas
The Big Island's Mauna Kea Banana Co.
is ending its banana production operations after more than 30 years in business.
Nine of the company's 30 workers will be laid off immediately and another 20 will lose their jobs in three months after the final banana harvest.
Rising costs, particularly skyrocketing energy prices, has led to increased costs for fertilizer and materials in general, said Richard Ha, company president.
"Everything that has to do with growing bananas is going up in price," he said. "It's rising in parallel to the rising costs of oil."
"Nitrogen fertilizer is created using energy, and even the plastic used to package the fruits is produced from oil, he said.
About 40 percent of the company's revenue comes from banana production, according to Ha, who said the business will retain its name.
Among other changes, the business is currently developing hydroelectric power at the farm to help contain energy costs.
"If we don't change, we will be history," he said. "We're always trying to see where we need to be five and 10 years down the road."
"The Pepeekeo producer said it will try to transfer qualified employees to other positions and talk with other banana growers who may be able to hire some of the affected workers.
The company, formerly known as Kea'au Bananas, plans to expand production of hydroponic vegetables under the Hamakua Springs Country Farms brand.
The business is in the process of adding 20 new planting houses for tomatoes and other produce. Hamakua Springs produces tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, green onions and other hydroponically-grown vegetables, which are sold to Hawaii supermarkets and restaurants.
Ha plans to lease 500 acres used for banana production to area farmers as part of an overall strategy to become more diversified in food products to supply the local community.