The Maui News: “A&B reports progress in ag and real estate”

A&B reports progress in ag and real estate

CEO: Ag diversification is difficult; may not go according to timeline

Work continues recently on the Alexander & Baldwin joint venture Keala o Wailea condominium development. The project near the entrance to Wailea off Piilani Highway is scheduled to have 70 luxury two- and three-bedroom condos. During a conference call with investors last week, A&B officials reported that 19 units have closed for sale so far this year with another 48 units in binding contracts and two in nonbinding contracts. • The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

While Alexander & Baldwin continues work to diversify its Maui agricultural lands, redeploying 4,500 acres of former sugar cane lands last year, the company sees progress as slow, difficult and unlikely to turn a profit, A&B President and Chief Executive Officer Chris Benjamin told investors in a telephone conference call last week. Continue reading “The Maui News: “A&B reports progress in ag and real estate””

The Maui News: “Progress made in converting old sugar cane lands”

Progress made in converting old sugar cane lands

Half of company’s 36,000 acres may be leased more quickly than expected – A&B

Valley Isle property sales and progress in diversifying former Maui sugar lands were among the highlights of Alexander & Baldwin’s third-quarter financial report, released Tuesday.

Overall, for the three months ending Sept. 30, A&B reported net income attributable to shareholders of $6.1 million (13 cents per diluted share), compared with a $1.9 million (3 cents per share) for the same period last year during the yearlong closure of the 36,000-acre Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. plantation on Maui.

The company told investors that its ongoing discontinued operations costs were $800,000 (2 cents per share) for the recently ended quarter, compared with $13.6 million (27 cents per share) for last year’s third quarter. Continue reading “The Maui News: “Progress made in converting old sugar cane lands””

Letter to the Editor: “A&B’s negligence putting lives and property at risk”

Letter to the Editor published in The Maui News

A&B’s negligence putting lives and property at risk

Who will be liable for loss of life and property due to Alexander & Baldwin’s negligence leaving thousands of acres of cane to burn across this island? Our public schools, homes, churches and businesses are all at risk as the cane is not replaced, plowed under or mowed down. Does A&B just walk away from its responsibilities while still trying to horde the public’s water?

I’ve been calling our representatives for months in what was obvious to me (and I’m no genius) but have gotten no response from council members or Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

The recent fires should be a warning call. Maui needs to be equipped with a Super Scooper fire plane and A&B land should confiscated by eminent domain unless it cleans up its act.

Bruce Oatway


Op-ed Column: “Maui needs farmers and to grow what we have the capacity to grow”

Maui needs farmers and to grow what we have the capacity to grow

According to the state Department of Agriculture’s “Statewide Agricultural Land Use Baseline” study, released back in 2015, prior to the sugar cane industry shutting down Maui had 44,360 acres in total area of crops being grown. This included seed production, commercial forestry, sugar cane, bananas, tropical fruits, pineapple, flowers, taro, macadamia nuts, coffee and other diversified crops.

As you can imagine, most of those crops consisted of sugar cane, some 36,000 acres out of the 44,360.

Alexander & Baldwin has been looking at different crops to replace sugar. In the meantime, the County of Maui has received a $5 million appropriation from the state with a $1 million match from the county to expand the Kula Ag Park onto former plantation land.

Currently, the Kula Ag Park consists of 445 acres and supports 26 farmers off of Pulehu Road. There are a multitude of crops grown in the ag park now, including Kula onions and other vegetables, turf grass, flowers, bananas, dry-land taro and landscaping nursery products.

We are hoping that the expansion to these lands will at least double the size of our ag park. Understandably, some people pointed out to me that even this addition would be a small drop in the bucket out of the 36,000 acres.

I don’t disagree, but it is a start. And quite frankly, finding the solution of which crop to grow next in our central plain is not simple.

Soil, climate, elevation and access to water all play a part in what a farmer decides to grow in his or her field. By all accounts, Central Maui is a desert. The only reason sugar cane grew so well there is because it is a flexible, adaptable crop.

Look at all the advantages of growing sugar cane: It’s a crop that didn’t need to be harvested every 90 days or even a year, but every two years, which cost less for Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co.; it was adaptable and grew in different soils and at different elevations; you could irrigate sugar cane with fresh and brackish water and it didn’t significantly affect the crop; it could even go without water for a week or two, an important advantage in a challenging area with little rain, lots of wind and desert-like conditions.

This is why we’ve seen a multipronged approach from A&B. A map that it released in April showed where it thought different crops would grow in different areas: coffee crops makai of Omaopio, cattle ranching near Hamakuapoko, biogas feedstock crops in Spreckelsville, etc.

This is a good, diversified plan, but in response I keep hearing quips from people saying that they don’t want the land to feed cattle, that we should only be growing “food” and that it has to be “organic” or nothing at all.

This is a needlessly self-destructive overreaction to what is our agricultural industry’s reality on Maui. We have to grow what we have the capacity to grow. It’s that simple.

Look at it this way: On any given day on Maui we have roughly 200,000 people on island (165,000 residents plus tourists). To feed them, we would need around 3 pounds of food per person per day.

That’s 600,000 pounds of food. Even if we farmed all 36,000 acres of A&B land, we could not produce that much. On the Mainland that’s just a small farm in Texas.

And yes, there are all kinds of farming techniques that we can and should look into, including composting, greenhouses, aeroponics, hydroponics, aquaponics and vertical crops, just to name a few. We are considering everything. If people are serious, come to the Kula Ag Park and apply, we welcome both old and new farmers.

We want more community farming. More importantly, we need the next generation of farmers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average age of farmers has gone from 50 to 58 over the last 30 years.

We need to cultivate the next generation of farmers, just as we would cultivate any crop.

What we don’t need are people who have no intention of farming telling the farmers what to grow and how to grow it. That doesn’t add anything to this important conversation.

* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa, is about county issues and activities of county government. The column usually appears on the first and third Fridays of the month.

The Maui News: “County considering an expansion of ag park with former sugar land”

County considering an expansion of ag park with former sugar land

During a meeting at the Kula Community Center on Wednesday, Mayor Alan Arakawa points out the 869 acres that the county is thinking about purchasing to expand the Kula Agricultural Park. The county invited local farmers and ranchers to ask questions and offer their thoughts on the expansion. • The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

KULA — In his 35 years with the agricultural program at the University of Hawaii Maui College, rancher William Jacintho has seen plenty of young farmers graduate “and find themselves against the wall.”

“We’ve had plenty students that got nowhere to go,” Jacintho said. “They graduate. They want to farm or do a nursery. . . . The whole bottom line is that there aren’t parcels for people to farm at a small size, and to me that’s critical.”

That’s why Jacintho is supportive of Maui County’s plans to expand the Kula Agricultural Park. With funding from the state, the county is thinking of leasing and eventually purchasing 869 acres of former sugar cane land from Alexander & Baldwin. Several residents who showed up to a meeting at the Kula Community Center on Wednesday said they hoped the park expansion could open the doors to more small farmers, who face challenges in the availability of farmland and its cost.

“I think it’s wonderful. We need all the farmers and ranchers we can get,”lifelong Kula farmer and rancher Annette Niles said. The challenge is “trying to find land, especially for young farmers. You go to spend all this money in college, you go to the ag program, you become a farmer, where do you go?”

The current Kula Agricultural Park on Pulehu Road spans 445 acres and supports 26 farmers on lots ranging from 10 to 30 acres in size, according to the county website. Kula onions, vegetables, turf grass and dryland taro are among the crops growing there. Land in the current park is leased out for $100 per acre per year, said Teena Rasmussen, director of the county Office of Economic Development.

Onion sprouts of a variety trial at the Kula Agricultural Park blow in the wind Wednesday morning at the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources farm lot. In the background, ag tech Ward Murashige creates a shallow drainage swale between the onions and a test patch of dryland taro. The county is considering purchasing old sugar fields to expand the park. • The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The 869 acres that the county is considering are divided into four parcels bordering Omaopio and Pulehu roads, just west of Hawaii Sea Spirits Organic Farm and Surfing Goat Dairy.

“Compared to the present Kula Agricultural Park, the elevation is much lower, so it will be warmer or hotter for a longer period during the year,” said Kenneth Yamamura, agricultural specialist with the Office of Economic Development. “It will also be windier since the trade winds will blow over that area.”

Yamamura said there are plenty of crops that could be grown there, including bananas, papayas, cucumbers, pineapple, tomatoes, sweet corn, potatoes and chickpeas. The site also could be used to raise livestock. Growing numbers of wild pigs, axis deer and various birds in the area could pose a challenge to farmers, he added.

The state Legislature has set aside $5 million for the purchase, and the county is chipping in another $1 million. However, a deal with A&B is still in the early stages.

Mayor Alan Arakawa said the county first has to figure out what farmers envision for the land — lot size, crop types, farming methods and more. The county is thinking of buying some of the land and leasing other parcels that it will eventually purchase. He said the park is open to all crops and farmers.

“What we’re trying to do from the county side is to provide opportunities for those on the smaller scale to be able to actually create farms,” said Arakawa, who is also a farmer.

Arakawa said he hoped the water costs would be lower in the extended portion of the park, because it sits below the 55-million-gallon reservoir and can be gravity fed. Water has to be pumped uphill to the current agricultural park.

Depending on the type of crops grown in the park, Arakawa said the county may have to install a system to generate potable water to wash hands or produce.

Some residents raised concerns about having conventional and organic farmers in the same area.

Yamamura said that “if there’s a great interest from organic farmers, essentially they have to come together as an organic coop so they can manage an area, rather than having individual 2- or 4-acre farms, and figure out the best way to put some kind of buffer.”

Rasmussen said it’s only “Day 1” of the process to expand the park. The county has to work out a plan for the additional acres, and the County Council has to approve the purchase before the state can release the funds. Arakawa said it could take two to three years before farmers could actually get onto the land.

“That’s why we have to know more as to what people want to be able to do,”he said. “Because we’re going to have to try to plan out areas and later on do soil testing to try to put farmers in appropriate places for the best chance of success.”

Simon Russell, chairman of the Hawaii Farmers Union United’s legislative committee, said one of his big concerns was affordable housing. Cultivating 869 acres will take a lot of workers, and housing isn’t cheap Upcountry, he pointed out. Farmers also can’t live on their plots or build any nonfarm structures in the agricultural park.

But Russell said the low cost of rent in the agricultural park would help attract farmers, many of whom don’t have their own land.

“Food security is something that I’m very concerned about for the long term,”he said. “There’s other things that are more profitable than vegetables, but frankly we need vegetable crop production, and Kula is a wonderful place to grow vegetables. I would hope that the people growing the food would be able to live up here.”

Russell grows sugar, papaya, vegetables and herbs on 2 acres in Makawao and hopes to lease 100 acres in the extended park.

Jacintho, who runs Beef & Blooms and Na’alae Beef Co., isn’t planning to lease land in the park, but said he hoped the county could set aside smaller parcels of a few acres for farmers. He pointed to a 2012 U.S. Department of Agriculture Census that showed that most small farms in Hawaii were from 1 to 9 acres. In Maui County, 711 farms were of that size, with 293 farms of 10 to 49 acres and 61 farms of 50 to 179 acres.

He knows smaller plots are harder to manage, “but there’s a need for that.”

For more information, call the Office of Economic Development at 270-7710.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at

The Maui News: “Corn and sorghum trials initiated”

Corn and sorghum trials initiated

A&B subsidiary to supply biofuel for power project at wastewater plant

Alexander & Baldwin Inc. has begun growing sorghum and corn on Maui as part of a test project to develop biofuel to feed a planned anaerobic digester that would produce methane gas to power the Kahului wastewater treatment facility, an A&B spokesman said last week.

The trials have been ongoing for several months and could reach 500 acres, A&B spokesman Darren Pai said Thursday. A map showing possible uses of old Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. fields, released during the Maui Energy Conference in March, showed “Biogas Feedstock Crop” on land near the Kahului Airport and Spreckelsville.

HC&S, a former subsidiary of A&B, shut down operations in December, which opened up 36,000 acres of former sugar cane fields. A&B has said that it is developing various diversified agricultural ventures on the old sugar cane land, and announced in May that it had set up wholly owned subsidiary Kulolio Ranch on 4,000 acres in Hamakuapoko to raise cattle for Maui Cattle Co. partners.

Last month, A&B announced a partnership with Oakland, Calif.-based TerViva to produce biofuel from pongamia trees on 250 acres in north Kihei/Maalaea. A&B CEO Chris Benjamin said in May that the partnership to produce seed oil could expand to 2,000 acres.

Pongamia, however, will not be powering the anaerobic digester at the Wailuku-Kahului Wastewater Reclamation Facility near Kanaha, Pai said. The pongamia project is “still in the early stages,” and A&B has not decided on processing facilities for the seed oil, he said.

But A&B is “focusing on crops that grow in rows and can be mechanically harvested, such as sorghum and corn” for Anaergia Services Maui All Natural Alternative’s power project at the wastewater treatment plant, Pai said.

“We will rotate these plantings with cover crops and legumes to fix nitrogen and other nutrients in the soil,” he added.

Pai said that “initial trial plantings of corn and sorghum have been encouraging.” The trials at this stage will be used to determine yields, the economics and “what it will take to scale up the production,” he said.

Both the development of biofuel for the Anaergia project and the pongamia TerViva partnership are programs of A&B subsidiary Central Maui Feedstocks LLC, which was organized in November. The company falls under the purview of Rick Volner, the former HC&S general manager who currently heads up A&B’s diversified agricultural initiatives, said Pai.

“Central Maui Feedstocks is focused on growing energy crops,” Pai said. “We are conducting trials to learn more about the yields and costs involved with growing different kinds of energy crops on our former sugar cane lands.”

The company also is “exploring the possibility that these crops may also produce byproducts that can be used as feed and forage for animals,” he said.

Central Maui Feedstocks’ two current programs are separate and not related, Pai said. He said that the terms of the company’s contract to supply energy crops to the Anaergia project are confidential.

An environmental impact statement preparation notice posted last month for the Anaergia project cited the contract with Central Maui Feedstocks. It said that the energy crops would be grown on former HC&S land.

According to the notice, the energy crops would produce methane through a digestion process. The natural gas would be refined on-site and fuel a combined heat-and-power engine to generate electricity for the treatment plant.

Waste heat from the engine would dry solid matter, or sludge. The project would power the wastewater treatment plant but not be hooked up to the Maui Electric Co. grid.

In December, the Maui County Council approved a resolution for a 20-year lease for Anaergia and Maui All Natural Alternatives for a 1-acre site on the treatment plant property.

The environmental review process is expected to be completed by the end of the year, and the project is planned to be operational by the end of 2019.

Anaergia contracted with the county in 2014 to build a waste conversion facility at the Central Maui Landfill. It also has proposed building a $50 million Maui Energy Park in West Maui to grow sorghum.

* Lee Imada can be reached at

The Maui News: “Partnership rounded up for cattle ranching on former sugar lands”

Partnership rounded up for cattle ranching on former sugar lands

A&B’s Kulolio Ranch aims to raise calves to maturity, market weight

Alexander & Baldwin has established Kulolio Ranch in Hamakuapoko, a grass-fed cattle pasture operation. The formation of the ranch on 4,000 acres comes after trials that began in late 2015 on old Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. lands. Alexander & Baldwin photo

Alexander & Baldwin has entered the ranching business on Maui, forming Kulolio Ranch in Hamakuapoko in a diversified agriculture venture on 4,000 acres of old Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar lands.

The ranch, a wholly owned subsidiary of A&B, will be collaborating with Maui Cattle Co., a partnership of six ranches, five on Maui, A&B said in a news release Tuesday. Under a grazing agreement, the ranchers will provide calves, while retaining ownership, to Kulolio Ranch, which will raise them to maturity and market weight, said Alex Franco, president of Maui Cattle Co., on Tuesday. Kulolio Ranch will be paid based on the weight gain.

“Having Kulolio has been a game-changer for us,” said Franco. “Our goal is to keep all our cattle here on Maui for the local market.”

Chris Benjamin, A&B president and CEO, said that “by raising grass-fed cattle on Maui, we believe we can increase and stabilize the supply of local beef and help increase consumer demand for local, fresh food products.”

“The goals of our partnership with Maui Cattle Co. are to increase local food production, support our local ranching community and deliver high-quality, healthy animals to the local market,” he said.

The ranch’s name comes from the wind that blows in the area, A&B said in a news release. Cattle trials, which included irrigated pastures in Hamakuapoko, have been ongoing since late 2015.

“We are really pleased with the results,” said Franco. “We like the quality of the beef that’s been coming from Kulolio.”

The ranch recently doubled the size of its grazing herd from 150 to 300 animals and is in the process of installing more than 18 miles of perimeter fencing and irrigation systems for the pastures, A&B said.

The ranch hopes to have 900 animals grazing in the fields by the end of the year and 3,500 animals by 2021.

Maui Cattle ranches will focus on producing calves rather than growing the cattle to maturity, said Franco. The 3,500 animals at Kulolio Ranch represent how many calves the local ranchers expect to be able to produce comfortably. With the focus on calf-raising, local ranches could produce more animals, he said.

The calves sent to Kulolio Ranch are 8 to 10 months old, and the ranch raises them for 12 to 15 months to maturity, he said. Franco did not disclose the rates to be paid, noting that they are based on a complicated formula, but did say they are compatible with market rates for the cattle industry.

Kulolio Ranch with its irrigated fields solves a problem ranchers have been dealing with for many years — drought, Franco said. Without green pastures to graze during drought, ranchers have been forced to reduce their stocks and to send their calves to the Mainland.

“When you are trying to supply the local market, whether it is drought or not, people are seeking the product,” Franco said. “When they are not able to get the product, it becomes problematic.”

The irrigated fields provide “a consistent means of getting our product into the marketplace” and “mitigate drought due to irrigation,” he said. While most of the trials were held during rainy times, the irrigation worked in getting grass established.

This arrangement allows Maui Cattle ranches and Kulolio Ranch to do what they do best, Franco said. He added that older mother cows are more able to handle drought conditions than cattle being grazed to market weight.

The addition of Kulolio Ranch offers a chance at a stable marketplace for the longtime ranches in Maui Cattle, which average 70 years in operation, Franco said. They include Ulupalakua, Kaupo, Hana, Haleakala and Nobriga ranches on Maui and Olumau Angus Plus on Kauai.

“You are looking at established companies that have been a big part of Maui for many, many years,” he said. “We are close to the market.”

They will provide jobs, buy materials from local vendors and “bring a lot into the economy,” Franco said.

Currently, 92 percent of beef on Maui is imported from the Mainland, New Zealand and Australia, he said. “We enjoy just a small portion of the marketplace,” he said.

Franco hedged when asked about the impact of Kulolio Ranch on imported beef but said “it is going to be real minimal,” maybe a 3 or 4 percent increase in locally produced meat.

There also will not be a major sway on meat prices. Franco said that the cost of doing business is higher in Hawaii and the scale of operations is smaller than the Mainland. He noted that some packers on the Mainland process 3,500 head of cattle in a couple of days.

“As far as price, our costs are still higher than our Mainland counterparts,”Franco said. “Our price still needs to be a little higher, so we can remain sustainable.”

Having grass-fed animals might be an advantage in the more health-conscious society. They are leaner with less intermuscular fat and higher in omega-3. Franco added, though, that the selection of grass- or grain-fed meat “depends on the palate of the consumer.”

The plan is to have all of the cattle slaughtered and processed on Maui, Franco said. Darren Pai, A&B spokesman, said Tuesday that the company has had “preliminary discussions” with groups interested in leasing land for expanded slaughterhouse facilities.

“Those discussions are still preliminary and have not been finalized,” he said.

Kulolio Ranch currently has two full-time hands in the field every day, Pai said. The ranch is expected to increase the number of workers as the operation progresses.

The ranch will be employing sustainable ranching practices with animals moved daily within paddocks. This will allow the cattle to graze freely while allowing grass and other forage to accumulate and grow during rest periods, A&B said.

“The cattle naturally fertilize the soil, eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers,” A&B said. “This holistic management process improves soil quality, sequesters soil carbon, reduces runoff and provides a healthy environment for the cattle.”

Franco said that the establishment of Kulolio Ranch will allow for management of previously unmanaged, fallow sugar cane land. This will reduce the fire danger and provide a habitat for birds.

“This is another sign of progress as we transition from sugar to diversified agriculture,” said Benjamin.

The establishment of Kulolio Ranch is technically not A&B’s first venture into diversified agriculture for its former 36,000 acres of sugar fields, Pai pointed out. The company recently formalized an agreement with Oakland, Calif., based TerViva to grow pongamia for biofuel on a 250-acre demonstration project in the north Kihei/Maalaea area.

A&B said it aims to transition 8,000 to 10,000 acres into diversified agriculture this year and “to aggressively convert more acreage over the next few years.”

Benjamin told investors in May that he did not expect diversified agriculture operations on the old sugar lands to show a profit in the near term. A&B shut down HC&S in December.

“We expect this project (the Kulolio Ranch) and our other diversified agriculture programs will become profitable over time,” Pai said when asked about profitability of the ranch.

“This is a strong start, yet there’s much more progress on the horizon,”Benjamin said. “Establishing viable agriculture on these Central Maui lands will not be easy, but we are committed to being good stewards of these lands and working with the county, state and other partners in the community to improve food security in Hawaii and make diversified agriculture on Maui a success.”

* Lee Imada can be reached at

The Maui News: “A&B moving forward with repurposing of sugar cane land”

A&B moving forward with repurposing of sugar cane land

Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar  Co. equipment is lined up in front of shuttered Puunene Mill on Thursday afternoon. Alexander & Baldwin shut down sugar operations in December. A&B President and Chief Executive Officer Chris Benjamin told investors Thursday that agricultural diversification on former sugar land is “coming along well” but that there is no expectation of profits from those operations in the near term. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. equipment is lined up in front of shuttered Puunene Mill on Thursday afternoon. Alexander & Baldwin shut down sugar operations in December. A&B President and Chief Executive Officer Chris Benjamin told investors Thursday that agricultural diversification on former sugar land is “coming along well” but that there is no expectation of profits from those operations in the near term. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The Maui News

While agricultural diversification of Alexander & Baldwin’s 36,000 acres of former sugar lands on Maui is “coming along well,” there’s no expectation that the effort will be profitable in the near term, A&B President and Chief Executive Officer Chris Benjamin told investors Thursday.

“In fact, we may continue to have some modest net expenses as we work on repurposing the sugar lands,” he said in a conference call. “But we’re making good progress in discussions with several interested tenants who will help keep these lands in active agriculture.”

He referred to a recent announcement that A&B had entered into a partnership with Oakland, Calif.-based TerViva, a seed oil-producing company to produce biofuel from pongamia trees on 250 acres on Maui.

“If successful, the partnership could expand up to 2,000 acres,” he said.

Benjamin said the company also is working on trials with cattle grazing and other energy crops on Maui.

“Our objective is to deploy as much of our former sugar plantation lands as possible in viable agricultural uses as quickly as possible,” he said.

The company reported $2.4 million of after-tax income from discontinued Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. operations, while the results of the first quarter of 2016 included a $10.8 million after-tax loss related to the sugar plantation’s shutdown, which was completed in December.

A&B announced income of $4.4 million, or 9 cents per diluted share, for the first quarter of 2017. That’s compared with $3.7 million, or 8 cents per diluted share, in the first quarter of 2016.

Results for this year’s first quarter included $3.7 million of after-tax costs ($4.8 million, pretax), which was related to the evaluation of real estate investment trust conversion.

Revenue for the company’s first quarter was $93.2 million, compared with $91.4 million for the same period last year.

“The increase in revenue is attributable to increased development and parcel sales, partially offset by lower materials and construction sales revenue and lower commercial real estate revenue,” A&B said.

A&B’s development of the Ho’okele Shopping Center, a 94,000-square-foot, 8.9-acre Safeway-anchored retail center in Kahului, was mentioned along with the La Hala Shops and Pearl Highlands Center on Oahu as part of “our strategic objective of increasing recurring earnings from our commercial portfolio,” Benjamin said.

In its commercial real estate segment, the company reported selling the 16,600-square-foot Maui Clinic Building for $3.4 million in January. The company also closed a sale of a Maui Business Park property for $2.4 million, and it sold an urban-zoned vacant property of 0.8 acre for $1.6 million.

A&B reported there were two Maui industrial tenants (both in the P&L Building on Papa Place) who chose not to renew their leases.

The company’s commercial properties increased operating profit 9.2 percent to $14.3 million in the year’s first quarter, compared with $13.1 million in last year’s first quarter. Occupancy of A&B’s commercial properties was “stable” at 94 percent, the company said.

The Maui News: “Wildland ‘live-fire’ drills to start Tuesday”

Wildland ‘live-fire’ drills to start Tuesday

The Maui Fire Department will conduct a series of wildland “live-fire” training exercises in north Kihei from Tuesday through Thursday and again April 24 and 25, the department announced Sunday.

Live-fire training will take place on 48 acres of former sugar cane fields on Alexander & Baldwin property, about a quarter-mile to 1 mile northeast of Hale Piilani Park and homes on the east end of Kaiolohia Street in Kihei, said Fire Services Chief Edward Taomoto.

In addition to providing firefighters with valuable training, the fallow sugar cane slated for burning will serve as a safety buffer from any future wildfires that might erupt upwind from the north Kihei neighborhood.

With the shutdown of Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. in December, the heavy equipment and personnel that previously assisted the Fire Department with cane field fires no longer exist. The once-lush cane fields have grown fallow and, in some cases, have become vastly overgrown after the recent winter rains. By selectively burning out specific areas, the department is effectively assisting A&B with creating a safety buffer next to homes and mitigating some of the dangers to residents, Taomoto said.

During the training sessions, Kihei residents can expect to see and smell smoke, and possibly see flames. Burning hours will be from about 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Individuals with respiratory issues should keep their windows closed, use air conditioning and stay indoors during these hours.

The Fire Department and the Maui Incident Management Team have carefully planned out these burn exercises to minimize the risk of fire spreading beyond the intended burn area, Taomoto said. Fire crews and additional equipment will be standing by to help control any fires that threaten to jump containment lines.

For any questions about the exercises, contact the department’s Fire Services Office at 270-5542 during normal business hours.

The Maui News: “A&B planning pongamia project on former HC&S land”

A&B planning pongamia project on former HC&S land

Tree’s seed oil can be used for biofuel

A demonstration project to grow pongamia on old Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. land in the Maalaea/north Kihei area could get underway in mid-May, an Alexander & Baldwin official said. The tree from India and Australia could produce 400 gallons of biofuel per acre from its seeds. — TerViva photo

Alexander & Baldwin is close to formalizing a partnership with a seed oil producing company on a 250-acre demonstration project to produce biofuels from the pongamia tree on old sugar fields with planting possibly to begin in mid-May.

Darren Pai, A&B spokesman, said Friday that pongamia, a long-living tree from India and Australia, also offers the possibility of producing food and fuel — with cattle grazing or other crops grown between the tree rows.

“We believe pongamia can help diversify agriculture production on Maui while also potentially addressing our community’s need for renewable fuels and bioenergy,” Pai said. “Transitioning the former plantation lands into diversified agriculture provides an opportunity to look at growing more energy crops locally.”

A&B has been in discussions for a few years with Oakland, Calif., based TerViva, which has been working on smaller pongamia projects in Hawaii, he said. “The transition of the former sugar plantation resulted in an opportunity to work together on a larger project,” Pai said.

Since Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. harvested its last sugar cane in December, parent company A&B has been looking for uses for the 36,000 acres of fields in Central and Upcountry Maui. The company has ongoing livestock partnerships and is looking at working with MauiGrown Coffee on expanding its coffee fields to old sugar land, possibly near the intersection of Omaopio and Pulehu roads or below Haliimaile.

TerViva is a 6-year-old company with offices in Hawaii, California and Florida that grows the orchard crop pongamia, a nongenetically modified organism tree that can be grown with little or no irrigation, according to the company’s website.

The seed oil from the tree may be used to produce biofuels. The residual pongamia seed cake, which is high in nitrogen and protein, can be used in fertilizer, animal feed supplements or as a feedstock for other bioenergy, including biogas production, Pai said.

A&B will be “partnering with TerViva on an initial 250-acre demonstration project with the possibility of expanding up to 2,000 acres or more if all goes well,” said Pai.

The two companies “are close to finalizing our partnership,” Pai said, adding that planting could begin in mid-May. When asked if A&B would lease the land to TerViva or grow the plant itself with TerViva, Pai said: “TerViva will grow the pongamia and manage the project with support from A&B.”

The Maalaea/north Kihei site was selected because of good sun exposure, productive soil, access to irrigation and other conditions like grade and accessibility, he said. Farming the tree will require some drip irrigation, but the water needs will be less than equivalent acres of sugar cane.

“Pongamia has grown well in smaller projects on Oahu and Hawaii Island without any environmental concerns,” Pai said.

Pongamia produces an annual harvest of seeds similar to soybeans, he said. TerViva estimates that 400 gallons of oil can be produced per acre.

“The purpose of our project is to confirm pongamia’s agronomic suitability in Central Maui and to determine production costs and yields at commercial scale,” Pai said.

It was not clear if A&B would process the plant on Maui. Pai said that A&B and TerViva “will evaluate together the best uses and optimal logistics for the crop, which could involve processing the crop on Maui.”

Pai said the processing of pongamia is similar to that of soybeans “and at scale could create additional jobs beyond field-related activities.”

Joanne Ivancic, executive director of the nonprofit Advanced Biofuels USA, had good things to say about TerViva.

“I have been impressed with the young people at TerViva who work with pongamia,” said Ivancic in response to an earlier story about A&B’s diversified agriculture plans that mentioned pongamia. Advanced Biofuels promotes biofuels for energy security, economic development and pollution control.

She said pongamia, a legume that fixes nitrogen to the soil, may be better for the land than hemp or sunflowers, which can be quite demanding of the soil. Pacific Biodiesel is working on a 115-acre sunflower demonstration plot on old Wailuku Sugar land near the Kuihelani and Honoapiilani highway intersection and hemp has been promoted as a farm crop for old HC&S lands, including by Rep. Kaniela Ing. The South Maui representative teamed with Oahu Rep. Cynthia Thielen during the last legislative session on possible measures to help HC&S transition to industrial hemp.

“At a conference in Washington, D.C., in early March, I was impressed with TerViva’s vision of an eventual multiuse way to grow these legume trees, incorporating pastureland forage so that the manure from the cattle will help to fertilize the trees and the grasses will serve to hold the soil,” Ivancic said.

* Lee Imada can be reached at