A recent letter from HC&S to The Maui News was both good news and bad. HC&S's land manager rightly states that weather patterns (decreasing trade winds and more days of vog) have impacted harvesting practices for sugarcane, and HC&S has responded by green harvesting some of their fields. Unfortunately, the letter implies that HC&S has no intention of moving towards greater use of green harvesting practices, stating the company cannot sustain green harvesting and remain viable.
HC&S fails to mention that the move to limited green harvesting was brought about by a growing number of concerned citizens contacting the Clean Air Branch (CAB) of the state Department of Health. CAB responded to these numerous complaints by placing stricter enforcement on HC&S's burn permit, restricting burns during variable wind conditions. Citizen complaints have also resulted, for the first time ever, in CAB issuing a violation against HC&S for an incident of excessive fugitive dust resulting in poor visibility along Mokulele Highway.
Changing weather patterns and a growing population with homes and schools now located in areas once unaffected by HC&S field practices have increased adverse health impacts to our community. It only makes sense to adopt 21st century sustainable practices.
Australia's sugar industry can serve as an example. Environmental awareness came when the industry determined guidelines to provide a "best practice" benchmark for growers. These farming techniques were published in the "Code of Practice for Sustainable Cane Growing," addressing key environmental issues of minimum tillage, green harvesting and trash blanketing, fertilizer and chemical usage, irrigation and its impacts, water quality and run-off, and soil health.
One of the biggest cultural changes in Australian cane growing has been the adoption of green harvesting and trash blanketing. Now, green harvesting over 80 percent of their crop, Australia has dramatically reduced the need for cane burning and its accompanying smoke issues, with the added benefit of making harvesting schedules more flexible. Trash blanketing increases the amount of organic matter in the soil and protects it from erosion.
Australian cane growers regard best practice farming not as a cost, but as a means of improving their productivity and efficiency. Unlike HC&S, they see sustainability as a basis for ensuring long-term viability and a guarantee that future generations will continue to produce sugar--for a profit. HC&S and our elected officials should take note.
In the meantime, Maui Tomorrow encourages our community to continue to report incidents of smoke on the ground, excessive ash and fugitive dust. Go to www.cleanairforkeiki.org and enter the date, time and location of incidents and send photos if possible. And look for the Clean Air for Keiki smartphone app in early September for even easier reporting.