Mycogen Seeds to shut down operations on Molokai in spring

Dozens of employees of Mycogen Seeds on Molokai received bad news just a couple of weeks before Christmas — the seed crop research company will shut down on the Friendly Isle in the spring as Dow-DuPont Agriculture consolidates operations in Hawaii.

“It’s so devastating,” Teena Rasmussen, director of the county Office of Economic Development, said Friday. “A lot of people are reeling. They are good jobs. Money brought into the community is no longer going to be there.”

Maui County Council Member Stacy Crivello said Friday that the announced shutdown comes as a blow to an economic driver on Molokai and to residents who lack other options for steady employment.

“It’s an emotional time for the Molokai families,” said Crivello, who holds the council’s Molokai residency seat.

Crivello said she planned to meet this weekend with state Rep. Lynn DeCoite, also a Molokai resident, to discuss ways to help workers facing layoffs.

During the closure of Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. last year, a task force was established to help workers find new employment and get job training, she said.

Crivello and Rasmussen estimated the number of jobs affected by the shutdown at approximately 100.

DuPont Pioneer spokeswoman Laurie Yoshida said that the number of jobs affected on Molokai had not been determined as of Friday because all full-time employees may apply for jobs anywhere within the company.

“We are evaluating our talent needs at the sites remaining open,” she said.

The company’s research and development will be consolidated at Waimea, Kauai, she said. And, production will be at Waialua, Oahu.

“We will still have a strong presence in Hawaii,” she said.

Operations on Molokai will end at the close of the winter season, in the second quarter of next year, Yoshida said.

Molokai employees learned of the shutdown Wednesday.

“It’s a real blow to the community,” Molokai Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rob Stephenson said Friday. “This is about people — real people with real feelings and emotions, real hopes and dreams and goals and real fears. I really want to respect that. I have friends and family members who work for this company. I feel for them. I’m very concerned for their well-being.”

He said he’d “hate to guess” the number of jobs lost, but those have been “stable jobs, good-paying jobs that allow people to live a lifestyle that they need here on Molokai.”

Some residents may face repossessed cars or foreclosed homes, Stephenson said. Some parents may find they can’t pay tuition for children attending college.

Meanwhile, Molokai businesses that rely on purchases of goods and services by Mycogen employees will see that income disappear, he said. There’s a “trickle-down effect,” he said.

Stephenson predicted that the closure of Mycogen would have a similar overall economic impact to the closure of Molokai Ranch. More than 120 people were unemployed when the ranch closed in 2008. The Kaluakoi Hotel and Maunaloa Lodge shut down on Molokai in 2001, leaving about 100 people jobless.

The Hikiola Cooperative helps Molokai farmers purchase farming equipment and supplies by pooling their resources and bringing their costs dow. The loss of Mycogen would weaken the cooperative, he said.

“It will have a measurable effect on the economies of scale to our ag community to every farmer,” Stephenson said.

Molokai’s nonprofit organizations also will feel the loss of philanthropic support from the company and its employees, he said.

Mycogen supports robotics and school science, technology, engineering and math programs, Stephenson said.

Also, the company has helped local farmers prepare the ground for their crops, he said.

“They’ve been small gestures of neighborly kindness,” he said. Much of that has gone “largely unnoticed.”

Stephenson said he hopes an investor or business entrepreneur will see the company’s closure as an opportunity.

“This is a great opportunity for those in our community who talk about agriculture to step up and actually put these lands back into agricultural production and create the jobs they claim they can,” he said.

That could include organic or any type of agriculture, Stephenson said.

“We support any endeavor that creates jobs and provides a meaningful outcome for our community,” he said.

The Hawaii Crop Improvement Association released a statement Friday afternoon.

“While we’re seeing some consolidation within the industry, we’re pleased that Dow-DuPont has decided to invest in and expand its seed research facilities on Kauai. This will ensure the continuation of seed production activities in our islands,” association Executive Director Bennette Misalucha said. “We remain grateful for the valuable contributions the company continues to make to Hawaii’s farming community.”

Molokai has chronically had the state’s highest unemployment. In October, the non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for Molokai was 5.1 percent, down from 6.7 percent a month earlier and from 9.6 percent in October 2016. The statewide jobless rate in October was 1.9 percent, down from 2.4 percent a month earlier and from 2.9 percent a year earlier.

Molokai has an estimated workforce of 2,500 people, according to the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

Mycogen is a subsidiary of Dow. Dow and DuPont merged Sept. 1.

* Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.


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