Tuesday, March 2, 1999

Maui mill marks
end of sweet era

Pioneer Mill will halt its
104-year sugar operation, but
will try other crops

By Jerry Tune


Maui's Pioneer Mill will end its 104-year history of sugar growing in September after this year's harvest is complete.

Amfac/JMB Hawaii, the owner of Pioneer Mill, today announced that it would turn some of its 6,000-acre operation into diversified crops.

The Lahaina-area mill, in operation since 1895, employs 76 full-time union employees, 21 full-time management staff and about 50 seasonal workers.

Amfac said at least 12 employees will be retained for the diversified agriculture operations.

"It's very regrettable that we must take this action, but we have lost almost $7 million at Pioneer Mill during the past five years despite a variety of measures to improve operations," Gary Grottke, president of Amfac/JMB Hawaii, said in a statement.

"The best plan we could develop for 1999 showed an additional $2 million loss. The bottom line is, Pioneer Mill is no longer economically viable as a sugar plantation."

The final sugar harvest will begin in mid-March with completion estimated for September, Amfac said.

Amfac said it has tried seasonal operations, the introduction of a team-farming concept and pay cuts to stem the losses at Pioneer Mill.

The company ran into a labor dispute last year over the changes and started marketing large pieces of its "nonproductive" land to raise cash it needs to pay off a $117 million debt that comes due in June 1999.

Grottke said that on Kauai, Amfac used federal funds to plant more than 500 acres of alfalfa, corn, guava and papaya on former sugar lands. "We would like to duplicate that success on Maui," he said.

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