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Kauai and Sugarcane

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The sugarcane industry was the first successful industry in Kauai. The first successful sugarcane plantation began in Koloa in 1835. Its first harvest in 1837 produced 2 tons of raw sugar.

After growing sugar cane in Hawaii for many years, the creation of the first extensive irrigation system at the Lihue Plantation on Kauai, which included a 10-mile long tunnel system and irrigation ditch, boosted this plantation to one of the island’s first commercially successful sugar producers.

Although Native Hawaiians had been working the sugar cane fields from the start, the number of workers was not sufficient for the labor intensive production of sugar cane. Workers were imported from China and the South Seas Islands as early as 1852. The Reciprocity Treaty of 1876 allowed Hawaiian sugar to enter the United States completely free of tariff duties. This economic incentive caused another boost in the number of sugar plantations and a need for even more labor. Still, by 1880, the 90 laborers of the Lihue Plantation were 60 percent Hawaiian.

In 1993 there were 35 farms on Kauai and Maui. In 1998, Hawaii was the third largest sugarcane producer in the U.S. after Louisiana and Florida. Sugarcane was grown on 62,251 acres on Maui and Kauai. Due to losses, Pioneer Mill, on Maui, closed in 1999.

Today there are only three sugarcane farms (two on Kauai and one on Maui). Sugarcane is grown on about 40,000 acres on Kauai and Maui, of which about 22,000 acres were actually harvested. Tourism is now the number one industry in Hawaii.

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