BY SEN. WIL ESPERO, D-EWA – A four-year-old state law, Act 271, is coming to fruition, specifically, to help farmers get started on former pineapple and sugar cane plantation land. That’s great news for our state’s economy.
Our agricultural scene today is not the two-crop industry of yesteryear. Our farmers produce a wide array of products: cheeses, tea, coffee, avocados, hydroponic lettuce, won bok, bok choi, choi sum, chives, and many other fruits and vegetables.
Our chocolate macadamia nut candies are world famous, sold in many stores across the mainland. Even our lei and decorative flower industry grows the most fragrant and lovely floral offerings anywhere in the world.
Our aquaculture is par excellence with tasty opakapaka, aku, mahi mahi, shrimp, and many more. Old-timers may have welcomed Primo Breweries, which once again began offering that familiar blue-label beer. It’s time for us to move forward and embrace agriculture and aquaculture as a vital contributor to our state’s economy. Let’s look at our Pacific Northwest sister state, Washington, to see what kind of potential there is in supporting food production as an industry.
Our Sister State Washington is the third largest food producing state in our nation, exporting nearly $14.8 billion in 2008. Annually, the industry generates $38 billion, comprises 12% of the state’s economy, and provides 160,000 jobs.
A hefty chunk of its exports goes overseas to Taiwan, Korea, and southeast Asia. There are 39,000 farms. The apple crop contributes 59% of the entire national production. Washington is the country’s top producer of apples, cherries, and hops, and the second top producer of potatoes and grapes. Its 10 largest commodities include, in this order: apples, milk, wheat, potatoes, cattle, hay, nursery/greenhouses, cherries, hops, and grapes.
Other important crops include raspberries, mint oils, fish and shellfish, and farm forest products. Variety is a key characteristic of Washington agriculture, with around 300 commodities produced. The state is the largest producer of 10 crops around the country.
Many crops are sold to independent or co-op food processors. Would it surprise you to learn that Washington is the country’s top producer of potatoes for french fries? It also is a leading producer of apple, grape, and berry juices. Washington, with over 600 wineries, is the second largest American producer of wines, following California, and leading Oregon and New York.
Our country is the world’s fourth largest producer of wines, with California’s alone being more than twice the production of the entire country of Australia. Kunia Loa The new Kunia farm hui is exciting because of the great potential it has for diversifying our economy and producing locally available food.
The Kunia Loa is one of the biggest agricultural areas in Hawaii, with 854 acres. Act 271, passed in 2006, was passed to make it easier to large landowners to lease property to small farmers.
C&C Farmlands LLC is the first entity to use the law to subdivide the land to farmers. Banana, lychee, and mango are among the crops that are planned by the first 20 farmers.
Our “Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Plan” encourages reports that only about 15% of the total food and 35% of fruits and vegetables we consume are grown locally. The Legislature passed HB 2421/Act 73 this year to create initiatives for economic development in local food & energy businesses to promote self-sufficiency.
With 99 lots available for new farms, we are moving in the right direction toward food security. The more we can — raise livestock for meat, grow vegetables and fruit, produce milk and dairy products that we consume — the less dependent we will be on imports. Just as importantly, growing our own food keeps our dollars circulating through our state economy rather than sending it out, which keeps our local markets strong.
I commend the entrepreneur spirit of these new farmers who are taking the bold step to make things happen and provide food for Hawaii residents, and for the foresight of the hui for providing the opportunity for them to do so.