When we think of the prior sugar industry, we often only think of the large corporate entities – the Big Five (C. Brewer & Co, 1826; Theo H. Davies & Co, 1845; Amfac, 1849; Castle & Cooke, 1851 and Alexander & Baldwin, 1870).
These were the ‘factors’ who served as agents (and many times bankers) for thirty-six of the thirty-eight sugar plantations,;the Big Five openly monopolized the sugar trade.
But these and the companies they represented were not the only sugar planters. Hawai‘i also had adherent planters. These farmers, many of whom worked certain periods for the plantation, sold their cane to the plantation on a contractual basis.
Because of the topography of Hawaii, it often happens that small areas of land suitable for growing sugarcane are isolated by deep ravines or small rivers from the main body of the plantation land.
When, for these or other reasons, it was not practicable to put a piece of land under the direct management of the plantation, it was the usual practice to provide for the cultivation of such land under what was known as “ the adherent-planter system.”
In 1939, there were approximately 3,500 such adherent planters in the Territory, cultivating about 13 percent of the total cane area on more than 5,000 separate parcels of land, and producing about 10 percent of the total sugar cane grown in Hawaii. (US Bureau of Labor, 1939)
Around statehood (1959) approximately 100,000 tons of sugar was produced annually, principally on the unirrigated plantations on the island of Hawaii under the so-called adherent planter system.
This adherent planter system was an outgrowth of the Hawaiian plantation system over the prior 50 years and was unique in the American sugar-producing areas.
The small sugar growers had two types of agreements with the plantations: as adherent planters or as independent growers.
The adherent system originated when adherent planter agreements were offered by already established and operating sugar plantations to employees as a convenient arrangement to grow sugarcane on a portion of lands under cultivation by the plantation.
The plantation financed the venture, made available the use of mules, plows, fertilizer, heavy equipment, and labor at the time of harvest and transported the sugarcane crop after harvest to the plantation mill.
As a payment for the contribution of the adherent planter for labor performed, the plantation producer settled with the adherent planter by purchasing the sugarcane at a price tied to the price of raw sugar at market.
Direct contributions by way of finances, the loan of equipment, men, and advance of materials and services such as transportation, were a charge against the adherent planter.
Indirect contributions such as technical assistance in agricultural practices, certain types of supervision, scientific research and development, and the general costs that go into operating a large-scale plantation were charged to the adherent planter’s account.
Thus the Hawaiian sugar plantations early entered into a cooperative project of sugarcane production with certain selected employees under the adherent planter system.
This was in contrast to the so-called independent planters of Louisiana, Puerto Rico, and the Philippine Islands. In those areas, for the most part, the sugar centrals came into already independently developed farming areas where sugarcane was already in existence, and placed a mill among the growers for the purpose of processing sugarcane.
The sugar processors in the independent-planter areas never were in a joint enterprise in the growing of sugarcane with their planters, as were the plantation producers of Hawaii under the adherent planter system.
The adherent planter system on the Hawaiian sugar plantations was an outgrowth of the earlier development. There are many different types of adherent planter agreements on various sugar plantations, and, in some instances on the same plantation.
But, the basic relationship which was an outgrowth of the past was essentially the same in all. For the most part, adherent planters were employees of the plantations who have been granted small parcels of land for the cultivation of sugarcane either in their spare time or during portions of the year which they devote exclusively to these adherent planter plots.
These same employees spend the bulk of the year on the plantation pay rolls in various capacities such as harvesters, cultivators, millmen, or in similar employment. As a rule an adherent planter has two parcels of land, one for each crop year. This was because sugar cane in Hawaii was grown in a 2-year crop cycle and it was financially more convenient for adherent planters to receive a settlement once a year instead of once in 2 years.
The adherent planter was charged with the responsibility of planting, bringing to maturity, and harvesting the crop of sugarcane on the land allocated to him by the plantation producer.
The skilled operators of the plantation producer run the equipment, and the planter was given the full advantage of scientific mechanization in sugarcane cultivation.
Plantation agriculturalists under the terms of the adherent planter agreements determined the varieties of cane to be planted and the agricultural practices to be followed by the adherent planter and gave the adherent planters early advantage of newest developments at the Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association experiment station.
These and other developments in the industry station have been brought about at industry expense and made available to the adherent planters without charge.
At the time of the harvest, in most instances, the sugarcane was taken off by the heavy equipment of the plantation producer or by gangs of plantation men. The sugarcane was delivered to the mill in the plantation system of transportation.
The adherent planter was generally paid for his sugarcane on the basis of the average New York price of 90° sugar, for the month in which the sugarcane was harvested.
The various adherent planter plots are quite frequently found interspersed among the administration fields and are always physically located within the confines of the farming unit of the plantation.
The entire operation was essentially a joint one between the adherent planter and the plantation producer. The passage of the Jones-Costigan amendment to the Agricultural Adjustment Act in 1934 resulted in the scrutiny of this system by the Department of Agriculture.
After a thorough investigation and public hearings in the Territory of Hawaii in December 1934, at which were present the representatives of the bulk of adherent planters in the Hawaiian sugar industry, the various plantation producers and the Secretary of Agriculture entered into the so-called production adjustment agreement.
These agreements set up the terms and conditions under which the Hawaiian sugar producers participated in the program for the production of sugar cane under the Agricultural Adjustment Administration. In these agreements, the peculiar status of the adherent planters of Hawaii was given recognition by the Secretary of Agriculture.
The so-called benefit payments of $10 per ton on sugar produced from adherent planter sugarcane were divided between the plantation producers and the adherent planters on the basis as though these payments were an increase in the market price of sugar; thus recognizing the joint nature of the venture under the adherent planter system. (Most here is from the Congressional Record)