Writers defending A&B’s practice of diverting streams dry for irrigating cane fields and employing 900 workers while keeping Central Maui looking green could take a wider view.
Noted farm scientist Dr. Paul Hepperly says the loss of organic matter in cane lands degraded by extractive farming means that if the current 1 percent organic matter is improved to 5 percent, water needed for crops is reduced by half. Hepperly adds if nitrogen-fixing cover crops like cow and pigeon peas were regularly plowed back into the soil, not only would water needs drop, nitrogen fertilizer, a major expense, would not have to be added.
Creating healthy soil this way would also support nutritional food crops, which, while requiring more labor, have a much higher value than sugar. Mill costs to process fresh foods can be much lower than sugar’s.
Growing multi-use windbreak trees further reduces water needs, and creates improved fruit tree and food crop habitat downwind. Returning organic matter to soils generates savings justifying no-burn harvesting, thereby improving air quality and calming controversy. Diversifying into fresh food reduces the high cane production needed to break even on sugar’s expensive processing.
A possible conflict is A&B’s reliance on Matson profits from shipping food to Hawai‘i. We need to study this and other corporate practices like stream diversion for the last 100 years to determine if traditions like these are the best way to ensure Maui’s self-sufficiency and prosperity today for the majority of our residents.