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Volner moving on to manage HC&D

He will continue to consult with A&B as it transitions to diversified ag

Rick Volner

The Maui News – Rick Volner, who helped oversee the closure of Hawaii’s last sugar plantation in 2016, is resigning as vice president of diversified agriculture for Alexander & Baldwin, the company announced Tuesday.

Volner is moving on to become the general manager of Maui operations for HC&D, formerly known as Ameron. An engineer by training, he worked for A&B for 20 years, including six as general manager of A&B subsidiary Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. on Maui.

“Having worked closely with Rick for more than a decade, I have nothing but the highest praise for him and appreciation for the leadership he has provided to our agricultural operations,” A&B President and Chief Executive Officer Chris Benjamin said. “As general manager of HC&S for six years, he provided a steady hand for our employees on Maui, especially as he guided them through the difficult cessation of our sugar operations.”

A&B said that with Volner’s help, the company has made significant progress in transitioning its former sugar lands into a patchwork of farms and ranch operations. A year after HC&S shut down, A&B has 4,500 acres of its 36,000 acres of former sugar fields in active ranching and farming, which includes grass-fed cattle ranching, pongamia, sweet potato and biogas feedstock crops for a Maui County renewable energy project.

An additional 15,000 acres are under active negotiations for new agricultural ventures, including non-GMO sorghum for energy and animal feed, coffee and other food crops that local farmers are interested in growing. Another 800 acres are slated for Maui County’s Kula Agricultural Park, geared toward local farmers interested in working smaller plots of land.

Volner “has successfully launched our transition to diversified agriculture,” Benjamin said. “His commitment to our employees and to Maui can be seen in the significant progress we’ve made in keeping Central Maui in agriculture.”

Volner will remain on the job as A&B conducts a search to find a replacement to head its diversified agriculture efforts, the company said. In March, he will begin a gradual transition into his new role while remaining active with A&B through a lengthy transition period. In the meantime, other A&B employees will assume larger leadership roles within diversified agriculture, including Jerrod Schreck, vice president of land stewardship; Mark Vaught, manager of water resources and East Maui Irrigation; Jacob Tavares, Kulolio Ranch manager; and Mae Nakahata, director of research.

After joining HC&D, Volner will continue to support A&B’s diversified agriculture operations on a long-term basis as a consultant.

“We are fully committed to making diversified agriculture in Central Maui successful and (Volner’s) knowledge and experience will be extremely helpful,” Benjamin said. “We will look to find a replacement who can equal Rick’s passion and expertise and build on the solid foundation that he started.”

A&B is also searching for a replacement for Grant Chun, former vice president of A&B Properties who left in mid-December to serve as executive director of Hale Mahaolu.

“It is difficult to find someone with Grant’s experience and broad range of skills,” A&B spokesperson Darren Pai said Tuesday. “For now we have reorganized the Maui office so employees are reporting to different managers depending on their respective roles and responsibilities.”