KAHULUI, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's a turning point for Maui as sugar production comes to an end. The mayor said the island's cane fields could be filled with biofuels, coffee, mangoes and avocados. But in the near future, he said the Valley Isle really needs vegetables.
Maui, Lanai and Molokai make up the fastest growing county in the state. The last census in 2014 counted more than 163,000 residents. In Monday night's State of the County address, Mayor Alan Arakawa said to sustain the population boom, the county needs to grow its own food.
"Farmers...now is the time to step up to the dinner plate," Arakawa said.
"The Central Maui plain needs to stay green for our environment and our economy," he said.
Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Co. has been growing sugar for over 140 years, but plans to switch gears and pursue diversified agriculture for its 36,000 acres currently in use. The plantation's owner, Alexander and Baldwin, has committed to a new diversified model, which involves dividing the plantation into smaller farms with a variety of uses including energy crops, food crops, support for the local cattle industry, and developing an agriculture park.
Arakawa said a number of interested parties have contacted his office about agriculture opportunities, but no vegetable farmers.
"To date we have not been contacted by one vegetable farmer yet. I'll say it slowly so everybody understands. We. Need. Vegetable farmers," said Arakawa.
Maui farmer Robert Ito has been farming for 42 years. He said the reason why no vegetable farmers have come forward is because that area on Maui isn't suitable for growing vegetables.
"It's windy for one thing, and it's too hot. We don't like to farm in the real hot weather, the vegetables don't like it for one thing, it's too hot," Ito said.
The Executive Director for the Maui County Farm Bureau Warren Watanabe said some of their vegetable farms are interested. Watanabe said although this is an "end of an era," this could mean the start of a new era for the county and the state.
"To keep the lands in agriculture, I think they made a big decision, and I think they need to be commended that. They are looking to move forward. And to be successful, you need more than one crop," Watanabe said.
STATE OF THE COUNTY ADDRESS: