Saturday, October 30, 1999

Mac nut grower
sees foreign threat

The president of a Maui firm
closing Dec. 31 says it's the first
victim of 'dumping' from Australia

By Gary T. Kubota
Maui correspondent


WAILUKU -- The macadamia nut industry here is in danger because of unfair foreign competition, says Wailuku Agribusiness President Avery Chumbley.

The company will shut down its 1,500-acre macadamia nut operation on Maui on Dec. 31, laying off 70 workers, because Australia is dumping its macadamia nuts on the U.S. market, Chumbley said.

"They're dumping in Hawaii heavily. I think we're the first victims of it," said Chumbley, who also is a state senator.

He warned that other growers could face a similar predicament if foreign dumping continues and said Congress should enact an anti-dumping law similar to the protection enjoyed by the pineapple industry on Maui.

Daniel Petrill, chief financial officer for Hamakua Macadamia Nut Co., said there has been a significant increase in foreign competition, particularly from Australia.

Petrill said that in the last four years, the price has gone from 70 cents to 50 cents a pound for wet in-shell macadamia nuts.

Earlier this year, Wailuku Agribusiness' parent company, C. Brewer & Co., said it was looking for a buyer for its Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corp. on the Big Island, where about 10,000 acres are planted with macadamia nut trees.

Wailuku Agribusiness planted its first trees in 1978 with the hope of harvesting 8 million pounds of in-shell nuts a year.

But it found it averaged closer to 3.5 million due to excessive winds, salt spray, and crop destruction by the tropical nut borer.

Chumbley said the company is working on ways to use the land.

Of the 25,000 acres owned by Wailuku Agribusiness, about 1,200 acres are farmed by Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. and 600 acres by Maui Land & Pineapple Co.

ILWU business agent William Kennison said the closure did not come as a complete surprise to workers.

"We kind of sensed it," Kennison said. "For over 10 years, they haven't planted trees."

Kennison said the union hopes the workers will find jobs with other agricultural companies, which may be expanding their acreage.

Under a contract, the employees will receive severance pay based on their years with the company.

The company noted a 25 percent loss in revenues in the past year, as a result of a decision by Hawaiian Host not to renew a contract.

Hawaiian Host Vice President Keith Sakamoto said the price for macadamia nuts in the old contract was higher than the current Hawaii market price.

Hawaiian Host said it has been buying more macadamia nuts from growers in Kona, where it has a nut-cracking plant.

Sakamoto said the company will occasionally purchase foreign macadamia nuts for its Los Angeles plant when it cannot get a certain size of nut.

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