Monsanto Molokai Blesses New Facility

State-of-the-art corn equipment allows for increased production.

By Catherine Cluett

The Friendly Isle may not have any traffic lights, but it is still at the forefront of technology. Monsanto, a leading global biotech company, held a blessing for its new Molokai seed corn production facility last Friday. Monsanto, Molokai’s largest employer with 100 full time workers, operates 1000 acres of land on Molokai, and has been in operation on the island since 2000.

The state-of-the-art facility allows for more efficient processing, better product management, and greater employee safety, says Mike Nagel, Monsanto Hawaii Manufacturing Lead. The $13 million facility was completed in February, and was first used in March.

Anakala Pilipo Solatario, Lawrence Aki, and Kawika Foster performed a blessing of the new facility, attended by over 100 guests. Event-goers enjoyed facility tours, the blessing heralded by the blowing of the pu, and a full meal following the program.

OHA Molokai Trustee Colette Machado spoke glowingly of the effort in her short speech at the blessing ceremony. “You are on the front end of technology,” she said. “This is an important step this company has made for its employees and for our island. We want to be on the cutting edge of corn production in the world.”

“Mahalo for the land we farm, mahalo to community members,” said Molokai Monsanto’s General Manager Ray Foster. “We’ve seen a lot of changes over the years, and there’re more to come.”

“Molokai is a significant part of Monsanto’s operations around the world,” says Nagel. “Every corn plant planted on the mainland can trace its origin back to Hawaii.”

The new corn drying system plays a key role in the facility’s operation.

According to Sam Smith, Seed Quality Supervisor, the corn, still on cob, takes about 72 hours for the drying process. The 14 drying bins can hold up to 1600 bushels of corn total. Blowers in the control room circulate air in the bins from bottom to top, then automatically switch directions half way through the process. Computerized thermometers monitor and control the temperature of the drying corn – 95 degrees F going up, and 105 degrees F on the way down.

At harvest, the corn contains about 35 percent moisture. After drying, the corn’s moisture content has been reduced to 11.5 percent.

Onsite generators, supplementing MECO power, run off of natural gas and shut off when the dryer is not in use.

“The system allows for more precise control of temperature and air flow,” says Nagel. “It cuts down on energy use and turn-around time. It also features a lot of safety upgrades.”

Before the new facility was built, Monsanto used portable drying units called “peanut wagons,” which are still used as a back-up when corn production exceeds the capacity of the new drying bins.

In addition to drying, the new facility contains state-of-the-art equipment for husking, removing the kernels from the cob, cleaning the corn, and bagging the finished product.

A combination of careful computer and manual monitoring of all operations makes all phases of corn production run smoother and more safely, say Monsanto representatives.

Similar drying facilities have been built on Maui and Oahu, but Nagel says the Molokai operation is the most recent and updated. “It’s a flagship of our operations,” he says.

Smith says Monsanto Molokai produces seed corn to be grown on the mainland, South America, the Philippines, and other countries, as well as for production on other Hawaiian islands. Hawaii allows up to three to four growing seasons for corn per year, whereas other areas of the United States only see one.

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