Galbraith ag lands

Senate bill would boost our food security

SB593 would require the Agribusiness Development Corporation to lease 50 percent of its land to local food production.

News Report
Will Caron

The State Senate committees on Agriculture (AGL) and Water and Land (WTL) will hold a hearing today on Senate Bill (SB)593, which proposes that:

The agribusiness development corporation, by December 31, 2025, shall lease a minimum of 50 percent of lands controlled by the agribusiness development corporation to operations that support the sustainable agriculture and local food production plan and whose primary business is the production of food for local consumption in Hawaii.

Should SB593 become law, approximately 10,000 acres of public agricultural land would be made available to local farmers for sustainable agriculture and local food production over the next 10 years.

This would be a “game changer for food self sufficiency in Hawaii,” according to Kauai County Councilman Gary Hooser.

The bill also requires the agribusiness development corporation to make increasing agriculture and local food production its primary mission, establish a sustainable agriculture and local food production plan and to submit annual reports to the legislature.

The Senate committees meet at 2:50pm today in room 224. AGL is headed by Senator Russell Ruderman and co-chaired by the newly elected Gil Riviere (served in the House 2010–12), while WTL is chaired by Senator Laura Thielen. All three senators are strong on the environment and agriculture and we predict they will support its passage. If the bill passes the GAL and WTL committees, it will move on to the Senate Ways and Means committee.

The Agribusiness Development Corporation (ADC) was established in 1994 (Act 264, Session Laws of Hawaii 1994, and codified in chapter 163D, Hawaii Revised Statutes) to “facilitate and provide direction for the transition of Hawaii’s agriculture industry from a dominance of sugar and pineapple to one composed of a diversity of different crops.”

During the last decade of the 20th century, Hawaii experienced accelerated closings of sugar and pineapple plantations across the state. The Legislature at the time viewed this occurrence not as a reason for panic but as an “unprecedented opportunity for the conversion of agriculture into a dynamic growth industry,” according to section 163D-l, Hawaii Revised Statutes.

According to a 2007 Legislative Reference Bureau report, it was estimated that by the end of the century, 75,000 acres of agricultural lands and 50 million gallons per day of irrigation water would be released from plantation operations. This release of valuable arable land, along with supporting infrastructure, including irrigation systems, roads, drainage systems, processing facilities and warehouses, was viewed as a windfall and a challenge to both the public and private sector to conserve and convert all this land and infrastructure into smaller aggressive diversified agricultural enterprises.

So the ADC was established to assist in this conversion. “However, in its adolescence and for whatever reasons, ADC appears to not have taken the giant strides that were anticipated,” according to the same Bureau report.

Eight years after that report was filed, the ADC controls more than 20,000 acres of agricultural public lands but, Hooser estimates, currently less than 5 percent of ADC lands are used for local food production. The majority of the 20,000 acres of state-owned agricultural lands that ADC controls has been leased to non-food producing companies.

“The public lands the ADC is managing are held in trust and are supposed to be used for the public good,” Hooser writes on his blog. “Sustainable agricultural practices are important to restore and preserve the land for future generations, as opposed to pesticide-intensive industrial practices.”

The most recent strategic plan available on the ADC website is from 2008, and the ‘07 Bureau report states that:

While there are some other projects ADC is undertaking, there is no question that the vast majority of its time, energy, and resources are being spent on water system management projects. The WWS, Kekaha, and east Kauai irrigation system/Kalepa projects all involve former sugarcane lands that have been or are in the process of being converted into diversified agriculture, along with extensive irrigation systems. The ADC future holds further involvement in the North Shore Coalition project and the Kau project, again both involving former sugarcane lands blessed with extensive irrigation systems. This was the primary mandate of ADC twelve years ago, facilitating the conversion of vacated sugarcane and pineapple plantations lands and the infrastructure serving these lands into diversified, multi-crop agricultural industries. These primary efforts were supplemented with efforts to start up new crops (Hamakua project and the tea industry) and assist in the marketing of other crops (Kauai papaya).

About 85 percent of Hawaii’s food is imported, making our state particularly vulnerable to natural disasters or global events that might disrupt shipping and, therefore, the food supply. Meanwhile, local farmers and ranchers say that the lack of affordable long-term leases on good agricultural lands is the most important roadblock to expanding local food production.

According to the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism‘s “Increased Food Security and Food Self-Sufficiency Strategy:”

The economic impact of food import replacement is significant. Replacing just 10 percent of the food we currently import would amount to approximately $313 million. Assuming a 30 percent farm share, $94 million would be realized at the farm-gate which would generate an economy-wide impact of an additional $188 million in sales, $47 million in earnings, $6 million in state tax revenues, and more than 2,300 jobs.