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Meet Maui’s Newest Largest Private Landowner

Alexander & Baldwin Offload Sizable Maui Portfolio

Ever since Alexander and Baldwin (A&B) decided to shut down their sugar cane operations a 2016, 41,000 acres of land has been in limbo with no clear indication of its future purpose. The decision to cease operations ended a 150 year industry, much of which is credited with making Hawaii what it is today.

Last week, that all changed when A&B announced they decided to offload their 41,000 across and sell it to Mahi Pono, a joint venture between a California agriculture group and a foreign investment manager. The deal makes Mahi Pono, the largest private landowner in all of Maui.

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Most of the green in the middle ground is what is now the former sugar cane land, picture courtesy of Dom Marino

The $262 million deal is seen as the key of Maui’s agriculture future and is aimed at increasing local food production.

A&B said Mahi Pono has a farming plan for the land that includes “cultivating a broad range of food crops for local consumption and export, including coffee, various fruit and vegetable crops.

The deal also included an agreement for A&B to include A&B’s grass-fed cattle project at Kulolio Ranch and Central Maui Feedstocks in the sale. However, A&B chose the right to retain about 6,000 acres of agricultural lands, including Paia and Puunene Mills.

Chris Benjamin, A&B President and CEO stated, “I think this is one of the most important developments for agriculture for Hawaii in a very long time these are some of the most fertile lands ins the island and yet they are sitting fallow. And rather than a single mono crop of sugar which we used to grow now they will be growing a variety of crops that will meet a variety of food needs for Hawaii.”

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Throwback to the old sugar cane burning days

The Maui and Hawaii community have met the decision with vary degrees of acceptance.

A&B has received plenty of criticism over the years from East Maui taro growers, Native Hawaiian practitioners and conservation groups for diverting water from East Maui streams to irrigate crop lands.

While many of state officials like Governor David Ige see it is a major positive, “With Alexander & Baldwin’s long tradition of stewardship and Mahi Pono’s investment, which is needed to cultivate new crops and preserve the environment, this partnership will ensure Central Maui stays green for the long term,” Ige said, in a news release.

Whether Mahi Pono will be a success and win over the Maui community, only time will tell and their true intentions be revealed.

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