Hawaiian commercial agriculture is predominantly of the plantation type. Plantations of sugar cane and pineapples comprise 95 per cent of the cropped land, and supply nearly all the agricultural exports of the Territory. The large-scale operations of the plantations afford a striking contrast to the small farms on which coffee, taro, bananas and vegetables are grown, chiefly for use within the islands.
Sugar, the paramount industry of the Territory of Hawaii, forms the foundation upon which business in the islands is built. In early years there were difficulties in growing sugar, including lack of experience, scarcity of capital, shortage of labor, and an uncertain market. In 1876 reciprocity with the United States became an accomplished fact, and the sugar industry developed rapidly.
Mechanized methods are used throughout the field and mill operations in the sugar industry. The soil is plowed and worked in preparation for planting by huge tractors pulling plows that turn a furrow two feet deep. Two rows are planted at a time by a machine that digs furrows, deposits fertilizer, lays sections of cane in the furrows for seed, and covers them with dirt. After planting, distribution ditches for irrigation are laid out and lined with concrete slabs or aluminum gutters to prevent loss of water by seepage. Spraying the young cane with weed killer saves labor compared with the older method of hoeing by hand. Machines apply fertilizer as needed, and the young cane is cultivated by machines.
Hawaiian sugar mills are most efficient. At the mill mechanical unloaders handle the cane a ton at a time. After being washed to remove the dirt, the cane is shredded and crushed to squeeze out the juice, which is sent through heaters, clarifiers, filters, evaporators, vacuum pans, and centrifugals to extract the sugar. By-products from the sugar mills are molasses, used for stock feed and industrial alcohol, and bagasse, the residue from which the juice has been taken, that is used for fuel, and at one plant for making insulating board called canec. Much of the mill machinery is made in Honolulu. Most of the raw sugar is sent to the San Francisco Bay region for refining.
The sugar industry is concentrated on four islands, Hawaii, Maui, Oahu, and Kauai. In spite of declining acreage, production of sugar cane has been maintained through larger yields made possible by the lavish application of fertilizer, the control of pests, and the introduction of improved varieties of cane.
The sugar industry is favored by natural conditions of soil and climate, lay of the land and sources of water permitting irrigation that makes for maximum and steady yields, introduced laborers, a protective tariff, and highly efficient management that, by using fertilizers, controlling insects and other pests, cooperative refining and marketing, development of new varieties of cane, extensive mechanization, and proper handling of labor has really made the sugar industry what it is today. Sugar production, therefore, is favored by a fortunate combination of natural and human factors.
The management of the plantations is provided by five experienced commercial houses or sugar factors that supervise all but two small plantations.
Pineapples introduced from tropical America rank next to sugar among the industries of Hawaii, and are of increasing importance to the island economy. Only half a century old, the success of the pineapple industry has stemmed from a combination of favorable climate and soil and applied scientific knowledge and sound business judgment.
Pineapples are propagated by planting suckers, slips, crowns, or stumps from selected plants; seeds are used only for experimental breeding. Land being prepared for planting pineapples is plowed deeply, and much trash from previous crops is worked into the ground to provide humus. The fields are divided by roads about 300 feet apart over which the machinery can run, and on sloping land planting is done on the contours. Plants are inserted into the ground, in double rows through a mulch paper, usually by hand, although planting machines are being tried. The mulching paper helps to conserve moisture, maintain an even temperature, and keep down weeds. The machine that lays the paper also fertilizes and fumigates the ground in the same operation. During growth the pineapples are sprayed, cultivated, fertilized, and weeded by machinery, a minimum of hand work being necessary.