A&B sells 41,000 acres of former Maui sugar lands

A&B sells 41,000 acres of former Maui sugar lands

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Alexander & Baldwin has sold about 41,000 acres of former Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company lands on Maui as part of a $262 million deal aimed at boosting local food production.

The buyer: Mahi Pono, a venture between a California-based agricultural group and a Canadian investment manager.

The deal makes Mahi Pono the largest private landowner on Maui.

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.

Mahi Pono also purchased A&B’s grass-fed cattle project at Kulolio Ranch and Central Maui Feedstocks.

But it retained about 6,000 acres of agricultural lands on Maui, including Paia and Puunene Mills.

“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," said Chris Benjamin, A&B President and CEO.

“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."

A&B started growing sugar on Maui nearly 150 years ago.

Operations ceased in 2016, ending the production of sugar in the state. At the time, A&B said it planned to pursue diversified agricultural opportunities.

The closure of Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company also led to hundreds of layoffs.

A&B says all of its former plantation workers will have access to jobs with the new company.

Meanwhile, an executive with the Maui Sierra Club said the deal caught them by surprise.

Just a month ago, the nonprofit said, A&B got its water permits renewed before the state Land Board.

The environmental group says it hopes the new company will use water efficiently and restore land that had been damaged by years of sugar cultivation.

Ann Chin, president of Mahi Pono, said the company’s name means to “farm properly.”

“We believe that represents our values and our community," she said. “Mahi Pono is committed to sustainable agriculture and responsible farming and we hope to be a very good member of the community for a long time.”

Benjamin said Mahi Pono is a “unique partner” with proven farming expertise.

“Most importantly, they share our vision of seeing farming flourish across Central Maui for generations to come,” Benjamin said.

Gov. David Ige said the sale of the lands is a positive step forward as the state seeks to increase local food production.

“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.

This story will be updated.

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