Final Days of Hawaii Sugar Now a Part of History

Dec 13, 2016

Some of the remaining workers at HC&S stand in front of the last hauler truck of Hawaii grown sugar cane.
Credit Molly Solomon

The last remaining sugar mill in Hawai‘i wrapped up its final harvest yesterday. Hundreds of workers, families, and community leaders gathered at Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company to say goodbye to a crop that shaped the islands. HPR’s Molly Solomon was there and has this report.

61-year-old Fermin Domingo climbs up the side of a sugar cane hauler for the last time. The haul truck driver has been working at HC&S for the past 40 years.

“I came here when I was 18 from the Phillippines, said Domingo. "I joined the company and I started harvesting. It was fun working out there, but we’re at the end and I don’t know what to do later.”

61-year-old Fermin Domingo worked at HC&S for 40 years. He drove in the last truck hauler of sugar cane on the plantation's final day.
Credit Molly Solomon

Domingo fires up the engine and the truck slowly rumbles toward the mill, its tires churning through thick mud. It stops at the base of a conveyor belt and a giant crane hooks the final load of Maui sugar cane. Cheers break out from the hundreds of workers standing nearby.

“It’s just an emotional thing," said mechanic Billy Cavilla. "Just realizing it’s going to end.”

Benji Pascua (center) records the final moments of sugar operations in Hawaii with a group of mechanics from the mill.
Credit Molly Solomon

Cavilla watches the final hauler from the sidelines and whips out his cell phone to record the historic moment. Next to him is 59-year old Robert Lopes, another mechanic at the mill.

“A lot of these people I see more than my family," said Lopes. "We’re not going to see each other no more. I think for me, that’s the hardest thing.”

More than 500 people came to witness the last harvest day. Many, including Governor Ige, have personal ties to Hawai‘i’s plantation legacy.

“My grandparents emigrated from Japan to work in the plantations more than 100 years ago, like so many others from the Philippines, China, the Portuguese," said Ige, who briefly attended the morning's event. "And it really was centered around the plantation.”

Fields of sorghum, one of the trial crops planted by Alexander & Baldwin. The company plans to replace the sugar cane acreage with diversified agriculture and cattle pastureland.
Credit Molly Solomon

Ige says the state supports Alexander & Baldwin’s plan to keep HC&S lands in agriculture. The company currently has about 140 acres of biofuel crops in the ground, as it transitions toward diversified agriculture. A&B also recently expanded its cattle pasturelands to 4,000 acres. 

Workers at Puʻunēnē Mill look on as the last piece of the final harvest drives up to the factory to be processed.
Credit Molly Solomon

Back at the mill, Howard Scott Pereira came to say his final goodbyes.

“I work over here about 15 years and I never thought this place would close up," said Pereira. "I’m sorry for the people who won’t have jobs. It’s very hard nowadays.”

The retired 78-year-old brought his daughter Colleen who says the story of sugar is what brought her family to Hawai‘i.

“Our families came when it was a territory to work the plantations," said Colleen. "So we had to come.”

The remaining workers will finish processing the final harvest this week. The last shipment of sugar, a little more than 30,000 tons, is scheduled to ship out to Crockett, California on Wednesday. 

A sign outside the Human Resources building at HC&S. Maui Brand sugar cane is all pau in Hawaii. A pallet holding the last 50lb bags are set aside for the remaining HC&S workers.
Credit Molly Solomon