Farmers, lawmakers talk about Oahu’s ag woes

Jade Eckardt

HALEIWA—With only two weeks left in the legislative session, the fates of several bills that would have a direct impact on Hawaii farmers and ranchers are being decided. Leaders in Hawaii’s agriculture community point to an immediate need for affordable land and longer leases, among other things. Lawmakers think they can help.

On Wednesday, April 20, approximately 15 farmers and ranchers hailing from Punaluu to Kahuku gathered at the Kahuku High School library. The purpose of the nighttime meeting with State Rep. Gil Riviere (R) of District 46 was to discuss the major problems facing Hawaii farmers today and the bills in the Legislature that may address them.

Also in attendance were State Rep. Jessica Wooley (D) of District 47, Junior Primacio of the Koolauloa Neighborhood Board, and several community members.

“We’re here to learn about bills being passed or not passed, and which ones are favorable for famers,” Primacio said at the start of the meeting.

Primacio said major problems around since the 1970s have historically affected farmers on the east and north shores of Oahu, who he described as “the sons of the plantation farmers.” Difficulties in securing affordable ag land, for example, are rooted in a disjointed procedure—something he said can be resolved through awareness and education.

“We’ve got to somehow get the farmers together,” Primacio said. “There are many obstacles, rules, and regulations that need to be known and addressed. Awareness is important.”

Compounding the issue for farmers is the lack of staff in the State Department of Agriculture. “It’s lean times in the department and we need to stay viligant,” Riviere said, before summarizing current bills.

On protecting land

One piece of legislation, House Bill 227, would make it easier for farmers to control trespassing, which often leads to damage to property and crops and increases the liability of land owners. Trespassers may also misuse lands as illegal dump sites and places to conduct illicit activities. 

Current laws exclude people on unimproved and apparently unused lands from being cited for criminal trespass unless notice of trespass is personally communicated to that person. In many cases, trespassers are armed and located miles from the nearest town or police station. In those situations, giving personal notice is impractical and dangerous. House Bill 227 aims to expand the definition of criminal trespass and to minimize the obstacles involved in citing a trespasser.

One farmer expressed support for House Bill 227, saying that most farmers try to live on their land to protect it from trespassers, but that not all can.

Riviere also described in length House Bill 1230, which would allow farmers to build non-residential structures on agricultural zoned land without a county permit, as long as they build it to code.

Lawmakers said the measure would reduce the start-up and expansion costs incurred by local farmers by allowing the construction of small, low-risk, nonresidential structures used for agricultural or aquacultural operations. Under the bill, farmers would be able to use readily available, low‑cost structures to store materials, equipment, and other supplies while also protecting their assets against inclement weather, vandalism, and theft.

House Bill 1230 received support from the East Oahu County Farm Bureau; Aquaculture Planning and Advocacy LLC; Oceanic Institute; Hawaii Aquaculture and Aquaponics Association; Hawaii Agriculture Research Center; Kunia Water Cooperative; Deeo Blue Research; Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council; Day2 Resources LLC; Analytical Services Inc.; Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation; Island Harvest Inc.; and six individuals.

On the less favorable end (for farmers) of the legislation spectrum is House Bill 865, which would raise insurance fees from 50 cents to 75 cents per 1,000 pounds of cargo—including seeds, fertilizer, and feed.

“This seems to me grossly unfair,” Riviere said of House Bill 865, “when a lot of [farmers’ cargo] is not likely to have invasive species. The majority of invasive species come in on air planes, yet a box of flowers doesn’t weight much.”

The last slaughterhouse

Later in the evening, conversation turned to the last slaughter house in operation on Oahu, located in Campbell Industrial Park. Senate Bill 249 would appropriate funds for the State to acquire the slaughter house.

Those in opposition to the acquisition said that it would put the State in direct competition with privately owned slaughterhouses on Maui, Hawaii Island, and Kauai. There are no other government-owned slaughterhouses in the United States.

“My position is, if we’re going to make a go at agriculture, we shouldn’t lose the last slaughterhouse on the island,” Rivere said.

“We need more land at a cost that we can afford to rent.”

A tough business

Near the end of the meeting, farmers refocused their concerns on how expensive it is to farm equitably.

“It takes me more than one acre to raise one calf,” said a part-time rancher from Punaluu, who explained that he and his wife are only part-time because they both hold day jobs. “If I need 40 calfs to make it work and hope to expand, 40 acres that each cost $100 month to lease, how can I pull that off?”

He added that because lenders deem the couple “part-time ranchers,” they didn’t qualify for loans and were ask to dip into their home equity.

“We need more land at a cost that we can afford to rent,” said another Kahuku farmer, noting the thousands of acres inland from the coast that go unused each year. He added, “Once a year my property gets completely flooded for two weeks. I’m going to lose what I have, or just not plant a crop while I wait for it to happen. But it’s nearly impossible to afford to lease more property.”

Most in attendance agreed that longer leases, and more land being made available at affordable prices, are the biggest issue they face.

“We got a lot of farmers out here, we gotta give them the tools. Something’s got to be done,” said Primacio.

Rivere agreed, saying a “a consistent, measured voice” would help.

An issue that closed the meeting was the lack of a food certification facilities for farmers to clean and wash their produce to get “that little green sticker” from the Department of Health. The certification allows farmers to sell their produce directly to larger markets without losing profit to a middle man. Without this, farmers are restricted to selling the produce at flea markets, farmers markets, and Chinatown.

“We can’t do it,” said a farmer from Kahuku who does not have easy access to certification facilities. “We just have to sell it cheap to someone else who makes the big bucks after it’s certified.”

In order to get Oahu’s farmers up to date on the latest legislation, Rivere suggested informational community classes that inform farmers of bills that they may benefit from, and how to take advantage of them. A Punaluu farmer added that classes would need translators for several languages to get the information across to a substantial amount of farmers. Riviere said he would be open to helping the classes become available.

“Unless we help the farmers somehow, someway, the farms are not sustainable,” Primacio said. “The reality is farmers might make some money but they cannot survive. One bad crop and they die ... The only reason the plantation survived for so long is that they were sustainable, they had everything the needed. Today, farmers only have one or two tractors, one goes down and they’re jeopardized.”

Riviere passed out a listing of 2011 Agricultural and Land related measures in conference committee:

HB 227 Trespass; Unimproved or Unused Land
Makes entering or remaining unlawfully on unimproved or unused agricultural lands without permission an offense of criminal trespass in the second degree if the lands are fences, enclosed, or secured, or a sign is displayed. Includes entering or remaining on agricultural lands that are fallow or have evidence of livestock at the time of entry in the offense of trespass in the second degree. Establishes limited liability of agricultural land owners for any injury, death, loss, or damage suffered by trespasser. Adds definitions of “agricultural land,” “fallow,” “trespasser,” and “unimproved or unused lands.” (SD2)

HB 324 South Kona Wilderness Area; West Oahu Historical District
Part I establishes the South Kona Wilderness Area to be administered by DLNR; part II authorizes the Legislature to designate a contiguous geographical area in the State as a historical district, and establishes the Pearl Harbor-Honouliuli historical district. Effective 7/1/2030 and Part I repealed on 6/30/2031. (SD2)

HB 331 Public Lands; Leases; Wildlife; Public Land Development Corporation
Restricts the rental period of certain leases granted by BLNR to not more than 65 years. Amends the definition of “wildlife” in chapter 197, Hawaii Revised Statutes. Prohibits the introduction of wildlife on state lands by any persons without the authorization of the Department of Land and Natural Resources. Establishes a public corporation to administer tan appropriate and culturally-sensitive public land development program. Effective 7/1/2050. (SD2)

HB 377 Public Lands; Hawaiian Fishponds; Coconut Island
Part I provides state lease preferences for the reconstruction, restoration, repair, or use of Hawaiian fishponds. Part II authorizes exemptions from state and country permits for the Hawaii marine laboratory refuge for the repair and maintenance of its facilities on the island of Moku-o-loe (Coconut Island). Effective 7/1/2030. (SD2)

HB 389 Land Use; Heeia Community Development District
Establishes the Heeia community development district in Koolaupoko, Oahu. (SD2)

HB 667 Department of Agriculture; Food Safety and Security Program
Creates the food safety and security program within the department of agriculture. Requires the department of agriculture to adopt rules regarding the production, processing, and distribution of food products or agricultural commodities to meet state and federal food safety standards. Effective 7/1/2050. (SD2)

HB 865 Inspection Fees
Increases the fee assessed for the inspection, quarantine, and eradication of invasive species contained in any freight from 50 cents to 75 cents for every 1,000 pounds of freight or part thereof brought into the State. (SD2)

HB 866 Beekeeping; Registration
Allows beekeepers to register with the department of agriculture. Appropriates funds for apiary program. Effective 7/1/2030. (SD2)

HB 1019 Environmental Response, Energy, and Food Security Tax; Energy Security Special Fund; Agricultural Development Special Fund; Climate Change Task Force ($)
Authorizes the revision of allocation from the Environmental Response, Energy, and Food Security Tax. Extends the existence of the Climate Change Task Force until 6/30/13. Effective 7/1/2117. (SD2)

HB 1230 Building Permits; Agricultural and Aquacultural Structures
Exempts construction of low-risk nonresidential and aquacultural structures from county building permit requirements, under certain conditions. Effective July 1, 2020. (SD1)

HB 1248 Agricultural Loans; New Farmer Program; Appropriation
Reduces the new farmer program loan interest rate. Increases the loan limits and reduces the number of credit denials required to qualify for the program. Appropriates funds. Effective July 1, 2117. (SD1) ($)

HB 1277 Statewide Agriculture Water Use and Development Study
Authorizes the issuance of general obligation bonds for the statewide agriculture water use and development study to be completed by the department of agriculture. Effective 7/1/2030. (SD2) ($)

HB 1483 Molokai Irrigation System; Homestead Lessees
Requires the department of agriculture to provide water at a reduced rate to Molokai irrigation system users who lease tracts of land under section 207 of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, 1920, as amended. Authorizes the department of agriculture to forgive past due amounts owed by Molokai homestead farmers for irrigation water. Appropriates funds to cover the operational costs of the Molokai irrigation system. Effective 7/1/2030. (SD2) ($)

HB 1552 Coffee; Labeling Requirements; Trademarks
Restricts the use of the geographic origin of Hawaii-grown coffee on coffee labels. (SD2)

HB 1568 Beosecurity and Inspection Facilities
Authorizes the issuance of an unspecified sum of general obligation bonds for the department of transportation to design and construct biosecurity and inspection facilities for the Department of Agriculture at airports and harbors. Effective 7/1/2117. (SD2)

HB 1570 Feedstock Costs; Appropriation; Livestock; Goat Milk
Appropriates funds to reimburse livestock producers for feed costs. Makes goat farmers with a herd of at least 25 lactating milking goats eligible for the livestock revitalization program. Effective 7/1/2030. (SD1)

SB 142 Dams and reservoirs
Requires only a portion of fees to cover Board of Water costs instead of all Board costs and adds language that explicitly expresses the irreplaceable value of clean water sources.

SB 1311 Habitat Conservation Plans Fees
Authorizes the Department of Land and Natural Resources to collect fees to cover the technical assistance program costs association with habitat conservation plans and adopt rules for establishing fees.

SB 281 Quarantine Facilities; Commercial Use; Special Fund; Appropriation
Authorizes the use or rental of Division of Animal Industry property or facilities for commercial purposes. Establishes the animal industry special fund. Makes an appropriation. Effective July 1, 2030. ($)

SB 145 Irrigation; General Obligation Bonds; Appropriation
Authorizes the director of finance to issue general obligation bonds in unspecified amounts to finance capital improvements to various irrigation systems. Effective July 1, 2030. (SB145 HD2) ($)

SB 1153 Agricultural Loans; New Farmer Program; Appropriation
Reduces the new farmer program loan interest rate; increases the loan limits; reduces the number of credit denials required to qualify for the program. Effective July 1, 2011. (SB1153 HD2) ($)

SB 23 ‘Aha Kiole Advisory Council
Establishes within the Department of Land and Natural Resources, the ‘aha kiole advisory council, which may advise the Office of the Chairperson of the Board of Land and Natural Resources on issues related to land and natural resource management through the ‘aha moku system. Requires the ‘aha kiole advisory council to submit an annual report in English and Hawaiian to the Office of the Chairperson of the Board of Land and Natural Resources and the Legislature at least 20 days prior to the convening of each regular session, on all recommendations made by the ‘aha kiole advisory council and the resulting action taken by the Department of Land and Natural Resources over the course of the year. (SB23 HD2)

SB 1079 Landowner Liability; Trespass
Establishes that an owner of range land owes no duty of care, under certain conditions, toward a trespasser for injuries suffered by the trespasser that occur on range land, or to warn the trespasser of dangerous natural conditions or range activities or uses.

SB 146 Biofuel; Feasibility Study; Transportation Fuel
Requires diesel fuel sold in the State for use in motor vehicles to contain five per cent biodiesel that is produced in the State from locally-sourced products meeting certain certification standards. Effective July 1, 2030.

SB 699 Office of Environmental Quality Control; Fees; Special Fund
Establishes filing fees to help fund operations of the Office of Environmental Quality Control. Creates special fund. Provides for a lag time for the collection of fees. Effective July 1, 2050. (SB699 HD2) ($)

SB 1244 Renewable Energy Facility Siting Process; Biofuel Production Facilities and Distribution Infrastructure
Modifies the renewable energy facility siting process to include biofuel production facilities and distribution infrastructure with capacity to produce or distribute one hundred thousand gallons or more of biofuel annually.

SB 1393 Agriculture; Aquaculture; Tax Credits
Provides that dams and related reservoir areas designated as important agricultural lands shall be included in the total area calculation for important agricultural lands. Effective July 1, 2020. (SB1393 HD2)

SB 249 Appropriation; Department of Agriculture; Campbell Industrial Park; Slaughterhouse
Appropriates funds to acquire a slaughterhouse within the Campbell Industrial Park on the island of Oahu. Effective July 1, 2030. ($)

SB 14 Agricultural Development and Food Security Special Fund
Expands the authorized uses of the Agricultural Development and Food Security Special Fund to include the improvement of dams and reservoirs, and water quality testing and improvement.
SB 98 Public Utilities Commission; Water Carriers
Requires public hearings subject to specified notice requirements before Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approval of a water carrier’s certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN); specifies required findings for a CPCN; requires posting of documents on PUC’s website. Effective July 1, 2030.

SB 1511 Commercial Aquaculture Leases
Increases the lease terms for aquaculture operations from 35 to 65 years. Authorizes the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) to designate any unused or underused DLNR public lands for aquaculture. Allows DLNR to exercise power over lands designated by the Department of Transportation to be used for aquaculture.

SB 2 Public Lands; Information System; DLNR; Appropriation
Requires the department of land and natural resources to initiate and coordinate all efforts to establish a public lands information system.

SB 199 Renewable Energy Technologies Income Tax Credit; Reimbursement
Requires, under certain conditions, the reimbursement to the general fund from a non-general fund of the Renewable Energy Technologies Income Tax Credit claimed by a taxpayer. Effective June 30, 2011.

SB 1006 Water Quality Standards
Amends the sunset date of June 30, 2011, for Act 126, Session Laws of Hawaii 2009, relating to revisions of certain state water quality standards to June 30, 2013. Effective June 29, 2011.