Pineapple in Hawaii


Posted Pineapple Field Wires Removed

The actual date of introduction of pineapple (Ananas comosusL.(Merrill) into Hawaii is not known. Pineapple was discovered by the Spanish in Central America and it was spread widely by explorers from Spain within a hundred years or so after its discovery. Pineapple was grown in Hawaii as early as 1813 but planting on a fairly large scale did not begin until after 1850. The first commercial venture was near Kailua on the island of Hawaii. It was short lived, however, and it was not until the middle 1880’s that a significant industry began to develop. James Dole established a plantation in the Wahiawa area of Oahu about 1900. The industry was well organized on several islands by 1915 to 1920; growth of the industry peaked in the 1950’s and then declined slowly under pressures of lowered prices resulting from international competition until the mid- 1970’s when the area in crop stabilized. Area in crop declined further in the last few years and now stands at about 9,000 hectares (22,000 acres) with the major plantations being located on the islands of Maui (Maui Pineapple Co.) and Oahu (Dole and Del Monte Fresh Fruit). These plantations grow predominantly Smooth Cayenne clones. A few small pineapple farms or mixed farms that include pineapple are also found on the islands of Kauai and Hawaii.

Because pineapple is a xerophytic plant, it uses water very efficiently so the crop is grown in areas having relatively low rainfall (from 50 to 200 cm; about 20 to 80 inches annually). In the past, irrigation was only used during very dry periods or in very dry areas. Recently, drip irrigation has been adopted to supply water and to inject nutrients and nematicides into the root zone after planting. Drip irrigation is now a wide-spread practice in the industry. Irrigation may actually be detrimental in higher rainfall areas because wet soil conditions favor root rot organisms, primarily the Phytophthera spp.

Pineapple is grown at elevations ranging from sea level to 2,600 feet on Maui and from 500 to 1500 feet on Oahu. Field practices are highly mechanized, which helps to keep Hawaii’s pineapple competitive with fruit produced in parts of the world where labor costs are much lower. Some planting material may be collected by hand, but manual labor is used primarily for planting and harvesting. All other field operations are done by machine. The field practices are briefly summarized below.

Soil Preparation:

Once the final crop is harvested, After the old plants are disced several times, left to dry, and then burned or plowed into the soil. Soil preparation usually includes plowing with a moldboard plow to a depth of 18 to 24″, followed by discing. Discing breaks up soil clods to assure that soil fumigants used to control nematodes penetrate throughout the soil. After tillage, preplant fertilizer consisting of a mixture of N, P, and K are applied, a fumigant to control nematodes is injected into the soil, and plastic strips are laid over the fumigated area, all by one machine. All P and most of the K is applied prior to planting. The plastic serves several purposes; it marks the plant location, it retains the fumigant, it controls weeds under the strip, and it raises soil temperature by about 1.5 °C in winter, which results in a sizeable increase in plant growth rate during those months.


Planting material typically is crowns from the top of the fruit, although slips, which come from the base of the fruit, and suckers pulled from the base of the plant stem may sometimes be used if planting material is in short supply. Planting material usually is dipped in a fungicide or dried for several days prior to planting. Dipping or drying reduces the incidence of rot after planting. Planting is done by hand with from from 59,000 to 74,000 crowns or other propagules planted per hectare (24,000 to 30,000 crowns per acre). Higher plant population densities are used if the fruit is to be harvested for sale as fresh fruit; lower populations are used when the fruit is to be canned.

Water Management:

Water is applied by overhead boom spray or sprinkler to help establish the planting material if no rains are likely. In the drier areas of Maui and Oahu, drip irrigation helps to maintain growth rates. Water is applied approximately once weekly.

Post-plant Fertilization:

Nitrogen, as urea or urea-ammonium nitrate, iron, and zinc are commonly applied after planting. All nutrients applied after planting are applied by a boom spray truck or with the irrigation water. A urea, iron, and zinc solution is applied every ten days to two weeks beginning about three months after planting until fruiting is initiated.

Crop Hazards:

Weed, insect and disease problems are all encountered in the production of pineapple. Weeds are controlled primarily by spraying herbicides with the boom spray truck. Pineapple tolerates some potent herbicides so weeds are not a serious problem beyond their cost of control. Because a pineapple crop can be in the ground for up to five years, herbicides can be broken down or leached away and control of weeds is lost. Therefore, some hand weeding may be required to keep weeds under control. Most of this weeding is done during slow periods on the plantation, which helps to make efficient use of labor. The major insect problem is the mealybug which is tended and protected on pineapple plants by ants. An effective ant control program makes it possible for the mealybug to be kept under control by biological means, mostly by predation, and ant control costs usually are less than those incurred in controlling mealybugs. There are no insects that attack the pineapple fruit in Hawaii at the present time. Diseases of pineapple include root rot and heart rot caused by Phytophthera parasitica and P. cinnamomi, butt rot caused by Thelaviopsis paradoxa, interfruitlet corking caused by species of Fusarium and Penicillium fungi, and pink disease caused by acetamonas bacteria.

Butt, heart and root rots are controlled by preplant a dip containing fungicides and by postplant sprays where problems are expected to be severe. Root rot is also controlled to some degree by keeping soil pH low, in the range of 4.5 to 5.5. While some losses due to fruit diseases occur, they are not large enough to justify the costs of control even though annual losses may reach a few million dollars. All agricultural chemicals applied to pineapple are put on with the boom spray truck.

Flower Induction:

Pineapple is the only crop where complete control of the life cycle is possible. Flowering occurs naturally in Hawaii during December but flowering is seldom uniform and almost never reaches 100% of the potential. Uniformity of flowering is achieved using ethylene, a gas, adsorbed on activated charcoal in water, or ethephon. The chemicals are all applied with the boom spray truck. Generally, greater than 95% of the plants develop an inflorescence after application of the growth regulator.

Fruit Ripening:

Fruit ripening can also be controlled by application of ethephon with the boom spray truck. A first harvest often is made to collect fruit that ripens early and any remaining fruit are induced to ripen by the application of ethephon. A second harvest is made about a week after ethephon is applied.


Harvesting is accomplished by workers who follow a self-propelled boom that extends into the field and conveys the picked fruit to bins in a truck. If the fruit is to be sold fresh, it is dipped in fungicide to control rot and packed for shipment.


After the fruit from the mother plant is harvested, a second or ratoon crop develops on suckers produced on the mother plant stem. The plant crop takes 18-20 months from the time of planting to mature while the ratoon crop is produced in only an additional 12 months. Sometimes, as many as three ratoon crops are harvested before the field is knocked down, tilled, and replanted. Usually the yield declines with each succeeding ratoon. Much of the profit is made from ratoon crops because the costs of field preparation, planting, and weed control have been paid for by the mother plant crop.

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