Growing Growers

Maui Land and Pine looks to ag for a sustainable future

April, 2005

As the nation’s largest grower of pineapple, the state’s top crop, Maui Land & Pineapple Co. Inc. (AMEX:MLP) is looking at agriculture in a whole different way by “growing growers,” says CEO David Cole.

“We have land, water, know-how and some capital,” he says of the strengths the more than century-old kamaaina company brings to the planning table. “Our philosophy is to diversify agriculture as part of our commitment to create and manage holistic communities for a sustainable future for Maui.” That includes growing more of our own food and maintaining our green space, he adds.

Cole knows that MLP is in a position to make a difference, with 28,600 acres on Maui that include the operation of the Kapalua Resort community and about 6,000 acres for pineapple cultivation and processing. Cole also heads Virginia’s Sunnyside Farms, considered an innovator in organic and ecological farming, and plans to increase organic pine production at MLP by 400 percent and to expand MLP’s organic farming over the next two years. He emphasizes that none of MLP’s ag products are genetically engineered.

However, Cole, who took over the struggling company in 2003, isn’t planning to to have MLP do the growing of new diversified crops. Instead, he is evaluating different ag products, such as building materials (e.g. bamboo and hardwoods), ornamentals and livestock, with the intent of “mapping markets to link talent to capital,” he explains.

The talent is local farmers whose farming and entrepreneurial skills MLP aims to help grow by enticing them with ag lots in an agricultural subdivision in Kapalua. Called Honolua Ridge, the first phase is offering 25 lots ranging from 3 acres to 15 acres and is almost sold out. Phase II of Honolua Ridge, scheduled to open in early 2005, will offer an additional 25 farm lots of up to 25 acres.

The market for the farm products will start with MLP. The company will contract with Honolua Ridge farmers, who can live and work in one of Maui’s luxurious resort areas, to buy back materials raised by these farms that MLP needs in other sectors of its business enterprises, according to Cole.

Growing future growers is also part of MLP’s vision of creating a sustainable future for Maui, says Cole. Reaching out to the community through two major agriculture summits in 2003 and 2004, MLP also created a new business unit, Maui Agricultural Partners, in 2003, to coordinate the company’s collaborative ag initiatives, such as its agreement with Maui-based Pacific Bio Diesel to develop fuel crops.

Cole has also been the driving force behind the newly created Sustainable Living Institute of Maui (SLIM), which works with a variety of community partners, including Maui Community College, Earth University and area high schools, on a range of ag-related initiatives, from soil remediation to alternative energy sources. MLP is already providing in-the-field experiences for local and international students through work-study programs, which are high on the SLIM list to foster agricultural entrepreneurship among young people.

“Agriculture has to succeed for Maui to sustain an undiminished future,” says Maui Community College (MCC) chancellor and SLIM member Dr. Clyde Sakamoto. “Our responsibility now, working with community and corporate partners like Maui Land & Pine, is to have students have real opportunities to participate in the future of ag.” Sakamoto hopes to send the first MCC student this spring on a student exchange program to Costa Rica’s Earth University, the only school of its kind, which is uniquely focused on developing future leaders for sustainable agriculture by nurturing entrepreneurial and environmental stewardship skills.

“Students at Earth University have to create an agri-business in order to graduate. We want agriculture elevated as a high-energy, high-status career for young people,” says Cole. “We’re taking a broader and longer look at ag as the kernel, the center, of the design of holistic communities that build a sustainable future for Maui.”

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