Myth: Jobs will be lost
Growing sugar in Hawai’i has always been a risky business. In 2009 Alexander & Baldwin (A&B) considered shutting down its sugar operations and converting its fields to biofuels.
But the century old system of US government loans, price supports, lax to non-existent regulatory oversight, and restrictions on sugar imports, combined with a sudden rise in sugar prices, made A&B reconsider. It then went on to several years of on-average $10 million annual net profits from its agricultural operations (under the brand name, HC&S).
However, even with all the advantages granted to sugar, A&B has again reported that it is considering shutting down its sugar operations because it isn’t generating enough profit. This has nothing to do with the burn or no-burn controversy. A&B is announcing plans to shut down the plantation while they are burning.
What is not being shared with the public is that Rick Volner, head of HC&S, has no intention of shutting down agricultural operations – only of transitioning to biofuel and food. Here’s what he said on HPR:
We’re always looking at what could be the next best crop that we can grow…We’re not a sugar company we’re an agricultural company… We are committed Alexander & Baldwin and HC&S to keep 36,000 acres in agriculture in the central valley of Maui, preserve jobs, do the things we think are necessary…
We are looking at a diverse portfolio of things that could help with both food and energy security. We’ve been extremely focused over the last few years looking at biofuels production with our central kind of core lands and we feel that we can grow feedstock very well better than anyone else probably in the world. But what’s really missing at this point, is that technology to take that agricultural feedstock and turn it into a high value biofuel an advance biofuel like drop in jetfuel or marine diesel…
When asked whether HC&S will be transitioning away from sugarcane in the next three years he dodged the question but replied:
We’re an agricultural company…probably growing something besides sugarcane for energy and food.
Experience in Australia has shown that no-burn harvesting does not cost more than burning. But it does require that A&B take some of its 2014 $61,400,000 profit and invest in no-burn harvest machinery. A&B is apparently unwilling to do this as long as they can get away with polluting the air with their smoke.
What is A&B’s plan for its “750 workers” in the event of the shut down they have been threatening on and off for decades?
A&B has, for the last 44 years, claimed to be looking for its next crop. But they don’t appear to be looking very hard. And now they propose just stopping and abandoning the workers who gave A&B their loyalty.
There is no evidence that A&B has ever considered the long-term future of its workers. Instead, it uses them as human shields whenever their various illegal and harmful business practices are called into question.
It seems like anything that happens in this world is always the next reason why A&B will consider shutting down its sugar operations. A responsible corporation makes contingency plans to take care of its workers. When A&B’s plans are known, the county and state can then minimize any disruption caused by A&B’s business plans in a thoughtful and proactive manner.