Keeping Maui Green

For over 140 years, HC&S has kept Maui green – from its cultivated carpet of sugarcane fields across Maui’s central isthmus, to its sustainable farming and energy practices. HC&S has also been actively “green” since its earliest days.

A year after its incorporation, in 1883, the company began to burn residual cane fiber, or bagasse, in its mill furnaces, replacing coal with this renewable fuel. In 1912, HC&S began generating hydroelectricity, further reducing the use of fossil fuels at HC&S.

In 2009, HC&S voluntarily designated 27,000 of its acres as “Important Agricultural Lands”, or IAL, ensuring that Maui’s central isthmus is set aside and preserved for agricultural use for the future. Combined with our ongoing efforts to protect the land, make wise use of the island’s water resources, and increase our energy self-sufficiency, we look forward to keeping Central Maui in productive green space for decades to come.

Beyond our own plantation lands, we help manage 100,000 acres of watershed through the East Maui Watershed Partnership, a joint stewardship effort between federal, state and private landowners to preserve the native forest and ensure a clean source of water for Maui well into the future.

Farming Practices

Use of agricultural chemicals at HC&S is minimized because rather than using insecticides to control plant pests, we use natural predators, or “bugs eating bugs.”

Only government-approved herbicides are used to control weeds, and they are applied to the sugar crop only during the first six months of a 24-month growing cycle, until plants are tall enough to shade the growth of competing weeds. By the time the crop is harvested, herbicide residues have naturally broken down, and are negligible or non-existent.

Water Use and Conservation

Farming a crop for commercial production requires a reliable and adequate supply of water to keep the plant healthy and producing high yields. We are careful to use water efficiently. The farm utilizes drip irrigation, which delivers a precise amount of water directly to the root of crops, in all fields, except those which utilize recycled water from the mill. In fact, it’s the largest privately owned drip-irrigated farm in the United States.

HC&S depends on three water systems to meet its water needs:

  1. The East Maui Irrigation (EMI) ditch system which collects water from the windward slopes of Haleakala;
  2. The West Maui ditch system, co-owned and operated by HC&S and Wailuku Water Co., which collects water from four streams originating from the West Maui mountains;
  3. A system of 15 brackish water wells.

EMI Ditch System

East Maui Irrigation (EMI), operates a ditch system which collects surface water (rainfall) on the east side of the island and delivers it to HC&S’ fields in Central Maui, as well as to the County Department of Water Supply, which in turn treats and provides the water to Upcountry farmers and residents.

The EMI system was built more than a century ago—an engineering feat that would later shape water reclamation and irrigation procedures used by engineers of major projects on the U.S. mainland. Today, it encompasses 75 miles of ditch, tunnels, siphons, flumes and reservoirs. There are also three hydroelectric plants, producing clean renewable energy, incorporated into the ditch system, utilizing the force of the water as it drops from one ditch to another.

Today, EMI is not only the largest privately built and operated water system in the nation, but it remains one of the world’s most efficient. The ditch system is very efficient in transporting water as the majority of it (50 miles) is lined, thus reducing seepage, and evaporation losses are essentially eliminated in the 50 miles of enclosed tunnel due to the lack of exposure to sunlight and wind. EMI conducts a regular program of inspection and repair/maintenance. Thus, the physical features of the ditch system as well as EMI’s management practices serve to minimize the losses of water from the system.

Furthermore, there are no motors involved in moving the water through the system so there is no consumption of fossil fuels. A sophisticated remote telemetry system transmits data on ditch flows to EMI’s station every eight minutes. This enables water flow to be adjusted at collection points so that only the water that is needed is transported to HC&S’ ditches and reservoirs.

West Maui Ditch System

The West Maui ditch system collects water from the Iao, Waihee, Waiehu and Waikapu streams. It is co-owned and operated by HC&S and Wailuku Agribusiness, originally serving Wailuku Sugar’s and HC&S’s sugar fields in Central Maui. Much of that water is now used by HC&S to serve its fields and additional fields HC&S has leased for cultivation. The West Maui ditch system also serves the needs of other farmers, businesses, residents and kuleana lands.

Brackish Water Wells

HC&S utilizes a battery of 15 brackish water wells to supplement its ditch systems, when insufficient surface water is available. These wells are of limited use for a number of reasons. First, this well water cannot reach all of HC&S’ fields—there are 12,800 acres on the slopes of Haleakala that are completely dependent on EMI ditch water for irrigation. Secondly, brackish water is not as good as fresh water for the healthy growth of sugarcane  and other crops.

Water Re-Use

  • All of the water used at the mill, to wash and process the cane, is recycled, filtered (to remove dirt) and re-used in our fields.
  • Water collected by the EMI ditch system is used to generate power, then in the fields for irrigation.

The Power of Agriculture

For most of its history, HC&S has generated all of the power it needs to operate—for its mills, its irrigation and wells.

Two clean, renewable energy resources provide about 75 percent of the fuel for our power-generating facilities, greatly reducing our use of fossil fuels. Bagasse, the fibrous material that is left after the juice has been extracted from the cane stalks, is the primary energy source used in our two steam plants. Approximately 500,000 tons of bagasse is converted to power each year, saving the company about 500,000 barrels of oil.

Hydroelectricity is the world’s largest renewable energy source. At HC&S, three hydroelectric plants divert water from our irrigation ditches to generate clean energy for the factory’s power plant. After generating power, the water is recycled–returned to the ditch for irrigation use.