Once upon a time, there were thousands of acres devoted to growing pineapple on the Hawaiian Islands. Today, only one farm remains.
“Pineapple arrived in Hawaii in about 1800. By 1900, there were a dozen companies growing pineapple commercially,” says Steve Potter, a man some consider the last pineapple farmer and tour guide in the U.S.
Pineapple can thrive 1,500 miles either side of the equator. The crop needs daytime temperatures between 70° and 90° and nighttime temperatures above 50°, Potter says. Abundant sunshine is necessary, and 2' of rich, well-drained volcanic soil creates the perfect seed bed.
Maui Gold, the lone pineapple operation on the Hawaiian Islands, has survived by cutting production costs. For example, Maui Gold employs 85 people while the previous company had 700 on staff. About 80% of the pineapple grown by Maui Gold remains in Hawaii, but a few pineapples are shipped to the West Coast.
The first crop of pineapple takes two years to produce fruit, but the next crop follows the year after. “You can do that without replanting, but the pineapple will get smaller and smaller,” Potter explains.
After the second crop, Maui Gold plows up the land and lets it grow in grass for one year. To plant a new crop, the crown of the pineapple is placed in the ground by hand.
“Planters can receive $40 an hour if they plant 6,000 in one day,” he adds. “Believe it or not, guys in their 70s do the planting.” They just can’t find young people who want to do the job.
Hand labor is also required to harvest the fruit. It’s a labor-intensive process, Potter says, which is one of the reasons there’s only one commercial pineapple farm remaining in Hawaii. High production costs make it cheaper to grow elsewhere. However, Maui Gold has found there’s plenty of demand for pineapple on the Hawaiian Islands, so the company concentrates its efforts locally.
Since there is only one pineapple farm that remains, Potter might be the last person to tell the story of Hawaii’s famed fruit.
“American Countryside” is heard each weekday on a network of 100 radio stations and frequently on “U.S. Farm Report” TV. To find the station nearest you, visit www.American Countryside.com