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With its tropical climate and fertile volcanic soil, Hawaii is well-suited for growing a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Hawaii’s major crops include sugarcane, pineapple, macadamia nuts, coffee, tomatoes, tropical flowers, papaya, bananas, and avocados.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the top crops grown across the Hawaiian islands. We’ll look at the history of agriculture in Hawaii, what makes the land so suitable for cultivation, the challenges farmers face, and the initiatives in place to support local food production.

A Brief History of Agriculture in Hawaii

Origins of Tropical Crop Farming

The origins of agriculture in Hawaii can be traced back to the Polynesian settlers who arrived there between 100 and 800 AD. They brought crops like taro, sweet potato, coconut, banana, sugarcane, and breadfruit with them and cultivated them in the tropical climate.

Farming started out small-scale and was used mainly to provide food for individual families. Over time, irrigation systems called loi were developed to grow wetland taro on a larger scale.

The Sugar Industry Boom

The sugar industry exploded in Hawaii in the 1800s. The first sugar mill opened in 1835, and by the 1880s, sugarcane plantations covered huge swaths of land on various Hawaiian islands. Sugar became Hawaii’s dominant agricultural industry and main export crop for over a century.

At its peak in the 1930s, Hawaii produced over 1 million tons of sugar annually. The rapid growth of sugarcane cultivation resulted in a huge demand for plantation labor, which was met by bringing in waves of immigrants from Asia, Europe, and beyond.

Diversifying Hawaii’s Crops

Although sugarcane is no longer king, agriculture continues to be vital to Hawaii’s economy. Around 7,000 farms operate in Hawaii today, working about 1.1 million acres of land. While sugar plantations have declined, Hawaii’s agriculture has diversified over the last 50 years.

Other major crops now include macadamia nuts, coffee, cacao, milk, livestock, fruits like pineapple and papaya, vegetables, cut flowers and foliage, timber, and aquaculture items. According to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, the main agricultural exports today are seeds, macadamia nuts, coffee, foliage/floral items, papaya, bananas, and eggs.

Hawaii’s Ideal Conditions for Crop Growth

Volcanic Soil Composition

The volcanic origin of the Hawaiian Islands has blessed them with incredibly fertile soil. Over thousands of years, volcanic eruptions spewed mineral-rich lava and ash across the islands, weathering into rich, well-drained soils.This volcanic soil contains just the right blend of nutrients to support abundant plant life, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.

In addition, the islands’ tropical location exposes the soil to heavy rainfall and year-round warmth, enabling rapid breakdown of organic matter into humus, further enriching the soil. The result is a lush, productive growing environment for crops.

Tropical Sun and Rain Patterns

Hawaii’s tropical location gives it plentiful sunshine and rainfall ideal for agriculture. The islands see sunshine 300 days per year on average, providing crops plenty of solar energy for photosynthesis. This enables rapid plant growth.

Hawaii’s weather also brings regular rainfall to hydrate those thirsty plants. While the islands have a wet season and dry season, rain is common year-round. For example, Kauai sees up to 350 inches of rainfall annually in its wettest regions.

This reliable water supply allows continual crop cultivation.

Microclimates Across the Islands

Adding to Hawaii’s agricultural diversity are countless microclimates tucked amidst the dramatic, varying landscapes across and within each island. The combination of mountains, valleys, and volcanic plains leads to a mosaic of soil types, rainfall, sunlight, and temperature profiles.

For instance, the lush windward sides of the islands see abundant rain while the leeward sides are drier. The mountains gather clouds and moisture, while the lowland areas bake in sunshine. This variety of microclimates allows farmers to tailor crop selection and growing conditions to best match each location.

Major Crops Grown in Hawaii


Hawaii is one of the top pineapple producing areas in the world. The tropical climate and fertile volcanic soil make it an ideal location to grow sweet, juicy pineapples. The Dole Food Company has large pineapple plantations on several islands and has popularized Hawaiian pineapples globally.

An estimated 14,000 acres of land in Hawaii is dedicated to pineapple cultivation, producing over 180,000 tons annually.


Sugarcane has been grown commercially in Hawaii since the 1800s. It was the dominant agricultural industry for over a century. Today, Hawaii’s sugarcane plantations produce nearly 1 million tons of raw sugar each year. Most sugarcane is grown on Maui and Kauai.

Modern mills extract sugar from the cane to be used in food manufacturing.


The Kona district on the Big Island of Hawaii has the perfect climate and volcanic soil for growing exceptional coffee. Over 600 coffee farms in Kona produce some of the most flavorful and expensive coffee in the world.

Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee and Kona coffee are among the rarest and most sought-after gourmet coffees globally.

Macadamia Nuts

Hawaii accounts for over 80% of the world’s supply of macadamia nuts. These buttery nuts grow on evergreen trees well-suited to Hawaii’s subtropical climate. Major macadamia orchards are located on the Big Island and Maui, with over 5,000 acres under cultivation.

Annual production ranges from 50-60 million pounds of macadamia nuts.

Tropical Flowers

Vibrant tropical flowers like anthurium, orchids, protea, and heliconia thrive in Hawaii’s moist, warm habitat. Anthurium and orchids reign as Hawaii’s largest flower exports. The Aloha State provides over 80% of all anthurium sold in the U.S. Quality testing ensures only superior flowers are shipped to retailers worldwide.


As a fast-growing fruit well-adapted to tropical regions, papayas flourish in Hawaii. Over 1,000 acres on the Big Island and Maui grow sweet, juicy papayas shipped to grocery stores across the country.

Hawaii’s nutrient-rich volcanic soil and ample rainfall produce delicious, antioxidant-rich papayas year-round.


Bananas are a legacy crop in Hawaii that continues succeeding despite hurdles like Panama disease. Though no longer a leading export, bananas are still grown on small farms across the islands. Over 300 family farms nurture 150-200 acres of productive banana groves statewide.

Hawaii bananas are coveted for their extra sweet taste and creamy texture.


Buttery, creamy Hawaiian avocados thrive in microclimates on Maui and the Big Island. Although a minor crop, Hawaii’s avocado sector earns distinction for producing premium quality fruits. Their rich, nutty flavor profile and high oil content set Hawaiian avocados apart.

Annual harvest yields up to 1.5 million pounds of smooth, delicious avocados.


Vine-ripened tomatoes are a rising star among Hawaii’s diverse agriculture. Greenhouses and open-field production on Oahu and Maui yield flavorful tomatoes with robust taste loved by celebrity chefs. Though small-scale currently, the Aloha State’s heirloom tomatoes signal promising opportunities for expansion moving forward.

Challenges Facing Hawaii’s Farmers

High Labor and Land Costs

Hawaii has exceptionally high costs for labor and land compared to other states. Hourly wages for farm workers are 60-70% higher than the national average. Meanwhile, the average cost of an acre of agricultural land is over $15,000 per acre – making it some of the most expensive farmland in the USA.

These factors make it difficult for local farmers to keep prices competitive with imported produce.

Natural Disasters

Hawaii’s tropical climate brings threats from hurricanes, flooding, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis. In 2018, the Kilauea volcano erupted for months, destroying over 700 homes and causing $800 million in damage to agricultural crops and infrastructure on Hawaii Island.

Climate change is also bringing more extreme weather events like heavy rains and flash flooding which can wipe out crops. These disasters take a heavy toll on local agriculture.

Invasive Pests

Invasive species have devastated many Hawaii crops over time. The coffee berry borer arrived around 2010 and has since caused up to 80% losses for Kona coffee farms in some years (source). Other pests like the macadamia felted coccid and the coconut rhinoceros beetle have also severely impacted yields.

Controlling these invasive insects is an ongoing battle requiring substantial time and money.

Water Shortages

With Hawaii’s tropical climate come periods of drought that strain water supplies needed for agriculture. Climate change is exacerbating the issue by bringing less reliable rainfall. Water usage disputes between commercial operations, Native Hawaiian communities, and small farms are common.

And infrastructure like irrigation ditches and reservoirs are aging, resulting in substantial water loss. Better solutions are needed to ensure adequate and equitable water access for cultivating healthy crops across Hawaii’s islands.

Supporting Local Agriculture

Government Initiatives

The state of Hawaii has implemented several programs to support local agriculture. The Hawaii Department of Agriculture’s Hawaii Seal of Quality program certifies locally grown produce that meets high quality standards (Hawaii Seal of Quality).

There are also agricultural loan programs available to help local farmers get started or expand their operations.

Organic Farming Practices

Many Hawaii farms utilize organic practices to grow healthy, sustainable crops while protecting the islands’ fragile ecosystems. Methods like composting, cover cropping, and integrated pest management are commonly used.

There has been increasing consumer demand for organic produce in Hawaii – between 2008 and 2016, sales of organic food doubled (Hawaii Business Magazine).

Farmer Co-ops and Food Hubs

Farmer cooperatives allow small-scale Hawaii growers to pool their resources and improve their market access. Food hubs also help connect local producers to buyers by aggregating products for easier distribution.

For example, the Hawaii Agribusiness Development Corporation operates the Kauai Aggregation Facility and Hawaii Island Aggregation Hub to make it more cost effective for farmers to transport goods (Hawaii Dept. of Agriculture).

Supporting these types of networks bolsters food self-sufficiency and strengthens community ties.


Hawaii’s long growing season, fertile soils, and tropical climate have made it a prime spot for cultivating crops like sugarcane, pineapple, macadamia nuts, coffee, tropical flowers, papaya, bananas, avocados, and tomatoes.

While farmers face challenges like high costs and invasive species, initiatives are underway across the islands to bolster local food production through sustainable practices.

The islands’ volcanic origins and geographic isolation led to the evolution of a uniquely diverse agriculture system producing crops found nowhere else. Supporting Hawaiian grown food and flowers keeps local farms thriving while reducing reliance on imports.

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