Monday, August 30, 1999

Maui plantation
tries new ways of
raising cane

A quicker harvest, without
burning, is one experiment

By Gary T. Kubota


WAILUKU -- The largest sugar plantation in Hawaii is planning to test the feasibility of harvesting sugar cane without first burning it in the fields.

Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. plans to cultivate varieties of sugar cane on 2,000 acres of land which will be harvested as it stands, with stalks and green leaves. The company, a subsidiary of Alexander & Baldwin Inc., grows sugar cane on about 37,000 acres of Maui land.

Opposition to sugar cane burning has been growing as more residential subdivisions arise near fields.

General Manager Stephen Holaday said the plantation hopes to know by the end of next year whether harvesting without burning is economically feasible.

In the experimental fields, Holaday said, the plantation plans to harvest the sugar cane in a year, rather than two years. The plantation will harvest more quickly to offset the smaller sugar yield with 1-year-old sugar cane.

He said some of the varieties are foreign sugar cane, while others are two-year Maui varieties that show strong initial growth.

Holaday said the company -- which already has planted 900 acres of experimental sugar cane -- has selected various test fields, including fields in Maalaea and the western outskirts of Paia.

Sugar cane has been traditionally burned in fields in Hawaii to eliminate the leaves and insects. Harvesting sugar cane without burning the fields is done on a limited basis in Australia and parts of Louisiana and Florida. Holaday said the company is using the latest technology, including three harvesters designed to gather green sugar cane.

He said the company already has spent several hundred thousand dollars in equipment and to bring in new varieties of sugar cane.

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