Hawai‘i County declared Ag disaster zone

In the wake of Iselle, Hawai‘i County's agriculture industry was adversely impacted to the point that the USDA declared the island a major disaster zone today.

Will Caron

One week after the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) denied a request made by the Governor and Hawai‘i’s congressional delegation to declare Hawai‘i County a major disaster zone following Tropical Storm Iselle, The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has designated the island as a “primary natural disaster area.”

While the FEMA request was denied because inspectors felt that 28 severely damaged homes and 11 destroyed ones did not warrant a declaration, the USDA believes that damages and losses caused by wind, rain, and flooding have resulted in sufficient agricultural production losses to warrant a natural disaster designation.

“Many farmers in Puna are still recovering after suffering devastating crop loss due to Tropical Storm Iselle and they need our help,” said Senator Brian Schatz during his announcement of the designation. “Support from the USDA will help ensure that our farmers in Hawai‘i County will receive the assistance they need.”

Schatz was criticized by his Republican opponent for Senate, Cam Cavasso, who said Schatz should have been working harder to get the FEMA declaration instead of staying in Puna to help pass out ice and other necessities to affected residents.

A Secretarial disaster designation makes farm operators in primary counties and those counties contiguous to such primary counties eligible for consideration of certain assistances from the Farm Service Agency (FSA), provided eligibility requirements are met. This assistance includes FSA emergency loans.

Farmers in eligible counties have 8 months from the date of a Secretarial disaster declaration to apply for emergency loans. FSA considers each emergency loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of production losses on the farm, and the security and repayment ability of the operator. So far, FSA has received more than 100 inquiries for assistance from producers in Hawai‘i County.

Puna District, which was the most severely impacted region of Hawai‘i Island, produces roughly 97 percent of the state’s papaya, along with (primarily) macadamia nuts, coffee and cut flowers.