Maui’s Historic Pineapple Farm Launches Reef-Friendly Landscaping Test Plot

Agriculture has a long and storied history in the Hawaiian islands, with its impact spanning generations of local families and thousands of acres of land. In its 2024-2028 strategic plan the Department of Agriculture estimates that Maui County is responsible for around 25% of Hawaiʻi’s overall agricultural production, which includes fruits and vegetables, animals, and even Christmas trees. 


Creating a partnership

Seeing the opportunity to make a positive impact on nearshore reefs, the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council (MNMRC) approached historic pineapple farm Maui Gold in June 2023 about testing its Reef-Friendly Landscaping program (RFL) at their farm in Hailiʻimaile. “We know excess nutrients and chemicals in runoff across the entire island are challenges faced by reefs across our island,” said Jill Wirt, RFL Program Director. “Working with agricultural businesses to minimize the use of chemicals and fertilizers is one way we can address this issue. Maui Gold has already implemented practices similar to RFL, so it was the perfect opportunity to pilot our program on a working farm while supporting their efforts to increase sustainable practices.”

The Reef-Friendly Landscaping Program team met with Darren Strand, Director of Agriculture, and Tambara Garrick, Director of Marketing and Communications in February 2024.


In February, Darren Strand, Director of Agriculture at Maui Gold invited MNMRC to visit the farm and discuss choosing an area for the test plot. Once selected, the test plot would be treated with a biological soil amendment, which is a liquid filled with nutrients and microbes that would nourish crops while enriching the soil at the same time. Made locally by natural land-care company SoilThrive Hawaii LLC, the amendment would be applied via a custom delivery system specifically designed for Maui Gold. After setup, 19 types of soil testing and crop monitoring would be conducted in the test plot throughout the next 18 months –the average lifecycle of a pineapple crop.


Ready to launch

On Wednesday, May 8, Maui Gold officially launched their RFL test plot with County of Maui Mayor Richard Bissen, Hawaiʻi State Senator Lynn DeCoite, and Maui County Councilmember Nohe Uʻu-Hodgins among the guests in attendance. Guests were able to view the test plot and ask questions as it was being prepared by SoilThrive staff. The launch ended with a tasting of pineapples in the field, cut by Rudy Balala, Maui Gold’s General Manager.

“We are thrilled to join forces with the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council to pioneer this Reef-Friendly Landscaping initiative on our farm,” said Strand. “We have always recognized the importance of protecting our natural resources, including Maui’s coastal ecosystems. Continuing to implement more reef-friendly practices is one way we can show our commitment to sustainability and responsible land management.”


A SoilThrive LLC staff member prepares the test site while guests learn more about the Reef-Friendly Landscaping program. (Photo Credit: Maui Gold Pineapple)


Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen asks questions during the site visit. (Photo Credit: Maui Gold Pineapple)


Rudy Balala, General Manager of Maui Gold Pineapple cuts a fresh fruit at the test site for guests. (Photo Credit: Maui Gold Pineapple)


The test plot will be revisited at the end of the 18-month trial period and the data from soil testing will be analyzed to determine the impact of the program. “Maui Gold is our first agricultural partner but we hope that with the results from this test plot, they won’t be our last,” said Wirt. “Working with farms like Maui Gold and agricultural businesses of all sizes is a step in the right direction and we’re looking forward to seeing how it could drive better outcomes for our coral reefs.”



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