Sugar harvest improving for Gay & Robinson

For the first time in four years, Hawai‘i’s sugar cane sales were higher than in the previous year.

Farm-level sugar cane sales were up 11 percent in 2002, marking the first time since 1998 that the industry has increased sales over the previous year.

The total farm-level sugar cane sales in the industry last year was $64.3 million. According to the Hawai‘i Agricultural Statistics Service (HASS), the two remaining sugar cane companies in the state, Kaua‘i’s Gay & Robinson Inc. and Maui’s Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company, increased raw sales to $95.9 million, which was also up 11 percent from the year before.

“Generally across the country, the price of sugar is up,” said Steven Gunn, HASS deputy state statistician. “That’s one main reason why the value of sales is up.”

The two Hawai‘i companies are using new techniques in order to boost the value of sales. Those include better production methods and a focus on selling “higher-margin sugar products” such as those found in jams and jellies.

Another key factor in the sales increase has been the 2002 U.S. Farm Bill, which helps regulate production costs and rates.

Gunn believes that the Farm Bill could help stabilize the rates for the sugar cane.

Production of sugar cane for sugar improved 11 percent to 2.1 million tons last year across the state. In 2001, there were 1.9 million tons of sugar cane harvested.

However, according to Gunn, the forecast for the remainder of this year shows that statewide sugar-cane quantities could decrease to 2,090,000 tons.

Raw sugar production across the state increased to 270,000 tons. Gay & Robinson’s 2003 estimated production is 56,891 tons, which would be 2,700 better than in the previous year.

According to state statistics, prices for sugar increased in 2002 to $355 a ton, which was up $4 from 2001.

The increase in sales value may signal a rebound in the business after years of decline in which companies left the industry and land acreage was used for other purposes.

“Right now, I wouldn’t expect these numbers to fluctuate too much,” Gunn said. “However, things change year to year and there are many variables out there such as drought that could affect things.”

Twelve years ago, over 50 sugar-cane farms and plantations were in the state. However, many foreign competitors began using cheap labor so to gain an advantage over U.S. companies.

At the end of 2000, the Kekaha Sugar Company ceased operations allowing Gay & Robinson to immediately expand its business on the state land previously leased by KSC.

Historically, Gay & Robinson has produced approximately 50,000 tons of raw sugar. Gay & Robinson plan on cultivating 4,500 more acres of land in the Kekaha area along with 7,200 acres in Makaweli in order to help maintain this recent rebound in sales value.

According to Gay & Robinson forecasts, raw sugar production beyond 2003 is projected at 60,000 plus tons.

Business Editor Barry Graham can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) and mailto:bgraham@pulitzer.net.

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