The tide is turning on the “wait and see” attitude many had toward Maui’s newest major agricultural land owner, Mahi Pono. The company bought 41,000 acres of central Maui land from Alexander & Baldwin in December for $262 million after the longtime sugar grower decided in 2016 to get out of the agriculture business and focus on commercial real estate.
Now Mahi Pono is following through on community farm plans, revealed its first farm plan to grow fruits and vegetables, and broke ground this month, planting its first crop.
In May, Mahi Pono outlined fruit, vegetable crops for first 2,000 acres on Maui. Crops slated for planting this year include avocados, bell peppers, potatoes, papaya, guava, lilikoi, white pineapple, oranges, mandarin oranges, lemons, limes, coffee and macadamia nuts, as well as cover crops such as alfalfa. Long-term plans include scaling up citrus fruit, coffee and the Kulolio Ranch grass-fed beef operations that Mahi Pono also acquired from A&B.
In July, applications became available to Hawaii residents and small local businesses interested in applying for 2-, 5- or 10-acre parcels at Mahi Pono’s agriculture park in Puunene.
Only the 2 and 5-acre lots are available in the first phase. Lost are on 40 acres of land, located in a 250-acre field in Puunene along Maui Veterans Highway. The lots may only be used for farming activities.
Future leases will be available on three additional plots and will include the 5- and 10-acre parcels intended for business use. The 2-acre parcels are available for subsistence farming.
Lease rates for lots are $150 per acre, per year for the duration of the lease. Applicants must be U.S. citizens and a Hawaii resident for three or more years. The parcels are ready to farm and have access to irrigation, windbreaks and ungulate fencing around the perimeter of the fields, said Shan Tsutsui, senior vice president of operations for Mahi Pono.
Community farm applications are available on the MahiPono.com website.
Applications will be accepted on an ongoing basis and reviewed by Mahi Pono’s Community Advisory Board as they are received. Review priorities include crops that best fit the agricultural needs of the island.
This month, Mahi Pono broke ground, as tractors lined the fields top plant the first crop: potatoes. The central valley was planted in a single crop, sugar cane, for 150 years. The company is moving forward with a variety of non-GMO crops to be used to bolster the county’s food supply. This first crop is red potatoes on about 40 acres in Puunene.
Planting the same crop in the same place for the past 150 years zaps nutrients from the earth and leaves soil weak and unable to support healthy plant growth. When the soil structure is poor, farmers are forced to use more and more chemical fertilizers to encourage plant growth, further disrupting the integrity of the soil. Monocropping also creates the spread of pests and diseases. A diversity of crops, such as what is planned by Mahi Pono, is the first step to regenerating healthy soil conditions.
Not only will our community benefit from the security of a fresh food supply grown right here on Maui, it will be nice to see a green, vibrant valley again.