From 1835, when the first successful commercial plantation was started at Kōloa, Kauai, to 1999, when one of the last sugar plantations ceased operations, over 100 sugar plantations and mills played a major role in the economic and social history of Hawaii. (UH Manoa)
Sugar industry members first organized together in 1882 as Planters’ Labor and Supply Company; the initial issue of the Planters Monthly (1882) noted that present publications (newspapers) “do not seem adquate avenues for the discussion of matters pertaining to the agriculture of a country.”
“The questions of labor, methods and cost of planting operations, methods of sugar making, dangers to which crops may be exposed from insects, plant diseases, and other causes, labor saving and sugar machinery, markets for produce, live stock, manures and other topics of similar importance can better be discussed in a publication devoted to their consideration.”
Over the years, The Planters’ Labor and Supply Company … (served as) a voluntary organization of persons and corporations in interested sugar industry. … (It had as its) objects and purposes the improvement of the sugar Industry, the support of an experiment station, the maintenance of a sufficient supply of labor, and the development of agriculture in general.” (Evening Bulletin, 1909)
Then, “After two days’ session the Planters’ Labor and Supply Company has passed out of existence and a new name substituted, under which much better results are hoped for.” (Hawaiian Gazette, November 29, 1895)
An 1895 newspaper announcement noted By-Laws of the newly formed Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association (HSPA) (evolved from the Planters’ Labor and Supply Company.)
“This Association shall be known as the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association and shall have for its objects the improvement of the sugar industry, the support of an experimental station and laboratory, the maintenance of a sufficient supply of labor, and the development of agriculture in general.”
“Members of this Association may be Sugar plantations or Mill Companies and individuals who are directly interested in Sugar plantations or Mills, but the Trustees of this Association may at their discretion admit other plantation companies and individuals engaged in other agricultural pursuits.” (The Independent, November 27, 1895)
HSPA was funded by the industry through self-assessments on each ton of sugar produced. The charge was determined based on the amount the board approved in the operating budget for HSPA. Each plantation company contributed based on the tons sugar produced.
The HSPA not only conducted scientific research in areas of improved seed, fertilization, and irrigation practices but also centralized management information and decision-making among the various plantations as it became a repository for knowledge of the sugar industry in Hawai’i.
HSPA was early to recognize to see the need to protect the Islands’ water supplies by reforesting mauka areas. On November 21, 1906, HSPA resolved that it “hereby expresses its hearty approval of the policy of setting apart forest reserves, inaugurated and now being prosecuted by the Territorial authorities …”
And that rangers should be provided “to guard and protect such reserves from fire, trespassers and depredation, (and) By the initiation of systematic reforesting of such portions of said reserves as are not now covered with trees”.
They later followed up in December 1916, resolving that “the public interests of the Territory urgently require that a systematic working plan for reforesting the several islands, more particularly the Island of Oahu, from the standpoint of the conservation of water, should be drawn up, adopted, and put into execution at as early a date as practicable”.
In 1919, the HSPA bought 124-acres and Harold Lyon was put in charge of a newly created Department of Botany and Forestation for the Territory of Hawai‘i. He organized the first plant pathology Department established in any US Experiment Station, and also developed the Manoa Arboretum for botanical studies (renamed the Harold L Lyon Arboretum after his death in 1957.)
“Members and administrators of the HSPA appear to acknowledge the difficult physical nature of manual labour in the sugar cane fields.” “Evidence from the early 1920s suggests that there were attempts by Hawaiian sugar plantation management to develop processes that measured individual productivity.”
“It was seen as an undertaking to reward individual efforts and help alleviate labour shortages that continued, albeit at a lower rate, through the 1930s Great Depression.” (Dyball & Rooney)
As an organization representing one of the largest industries in Hawai‘i prior to World War II, the HSPA and its members wielded great economic and political influence. (Nakamura)
Through the 1950s sugar was the dominant economic engine of the Hawaiian Islands. The owners and operators of the factory companies and plantations set the economic, social and political tone of the Islands. (HARC)
HSPA built its main experiment station and administrative facilities at Makiki in 1917 (much of its former outplanting area is now the fields of the Makiki District Park;)in the early-1970s HSPA moved to a new facility in Aiea.
In addition to that, HSPA had a large leased area at Waipiʻo, the Helemano Variety Station, the Ewa Variety Station, the Kailua Substation, the Manoa Arboretum (late known as the Lyon Arboretum, and a few other O‘ahu sites.
On the Island of Hawaii there are four cane variety units (in Hilo, Hāmākua, Kohala and the Hawai‘i Seed Nursery,) as well as other facilities. Kauai had the Kauai Variety Station at Lihue; the Maui substation was at HC&S and Molokai had sugar-cane quarantine facilities.
As plantations began, merged and closed, the business records of these enterprises were often lost or placed in jeopardy. In 1981, HSPA created the Plantation Archives to serve as a repository for records of plantations that chose to donate their records. In 1995, the collection was donated to the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa Library. (UH Manoa)
The organization changed its name again in 1996 to Hawai‘i Agriculture Research Center (HARC) which reflects its expanding scope to encompass research in forestry, coffee, forage, vegetable crops, tropical fruits, and many other diversified crops in addition to sugarcane.
In addition to serving Hawaii’s agricultural industries through research and immediate response teams to solve problems, HARC helps other local, national, and international organizations meet their research, on-site consulting, and training needs.
HARC offers a wide array of agricultural services. Mainland seed companies take advantage of Hawaii’s favorable weather conditions by utilizing HARC’s field and nursery services for winter growouts, seed increases, and testing. The analytical chemistry laboratory specializes in residue studies conducted according to EPA Good Laboratory Practices. (HARC)
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