Categorized | Agriculture

Farming with Love: What can we do with $26.5 million?

Special to Hawaii 24/7 by Ken Love

It was indeed an honor to be considered and recommended by various farmer groups as chair of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. Although being way to politically incorrect to be seriously considered, the thought of being in the position enabled me to galvanize some of the ideas I have for agriculture in our state.

These ideas will be shared with the governor and our expected Chair Russell Kokubun who will have the support of many growers
across the state. We will look for the governor’s promised changes in Hawaii agricultural policy and the end of “business as usual” plantation ag while looking forward to production agriculture to feed our population.

One action that needs to be taken to help level the playing field, increase production AG and help eliminate the budget deficit is to levy an inspection fee of 10 cents a pound on all imported produce that competes with what Hawaiian farmers grow and sell.

We have to protect what we have now both from pests like the coffee borer and from pricing structures below our cost of production.

Using the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, we can see what 10 cents a pound can do:

Avocado imports 2,332,000 pounds = $233,200
Banana imports 16,028,000 pounds = $1,602,800
Grapefruit Imports 1,600,000 pounds = $160,000
Lemon imports 4,035,000 pounds = $403,500
Limes Imports 2,136,000 pounds = $213,600
Orange Imports 10,671,000 pounds = $1,067,100
Tangerine imports 1,460,000 pounds = $146,000
Watermelon 4,007,000 pounds = $400,700
Other unspecified fruit (Imports of papaya and guava and other fruit are not released perhaps in order to protect the importer!) 28,761,000 pounds = $2,876,000
Foreign Green coffee (Estimate based on 20% of 3.15 million pounds of Kona coffee greens being used by 10% blenders from Kona Coffee Farmers.) 5,000,000 pounds = $500,000

Sub-total = $7,602,900

Now if we add imported produce like the ginger and taro that comes in from China, vegetable imports total 159,147,000 pounds $15,914,700

Sub-total = $23,517,600

Other fruit that is not commonly grown in Hawaii, but could be if land at upper elevations was available, like apples, pears, peaches and plums, accounts for another 30 million pounds of imports or $3,000,000.00

Total = $26,517,600

What can $26.5 million do?

* Provide jobs for inspectors to check incoming produce that might prevent additional insects, viruses and bacteria from plaguing Hawaiian growers. $5 million for salaries.

* Marketing 100% Hawaiian grown and Buy Fresh It Matters programs within the state HDOA have had limited success because of lack of funding. Lets put $2 million into these programs. The HDOA competitive grant programs have had troubles for a variety of reasons. A new grant program putting funds into the hands of growers teamed with UH/CTAHR production agriculture specialists would help increase our self-sustainability. $1 million

* Building agriculture sustainability into elementary educational systems should be of primary importance to the future of this state. Let’s spend $1 million for school gardens and curriculum development.

* Let’s open state land for growing more temperate crops. $1 million

* Protecting our names should be extremely important. We should not tolerate imports like “Hawaiian Ginger product of China” or Kona coffee with questionable beans in the package. $1 million for legal fees.

* Clearly more research is needed in order to better our approach to
agriculture and self-sustainability in Hawaii. In addition to UH/CTAHR and HARC support for organizations like the Kohala Center need state support. $2 million for research!

I’ve only spent half of the $26.5 million we’ve raised, which gives the
governor $13 million and some change to work down the deficit. If we need a little more, let’s fine the stores that continually advertise local produce then forget to take the Peru stickers off the “local” mangos or the Ecuador stickers off the “local” bananas. A few thousand in fines every month or so might help with that problem!

Sure the importers would bellyache about 10 cents a pound inspection fees and we would see numbers on how this might impact poor consumers but these are the same produce companies importing Chinese taro and ginger, avocados from Chile and bananas from Ecuador.

They bring in 4 million pounds of lemons each year, 4 million pounds of avocados and almost 15 million pounds of oranges. We owe it to our decedents to protect Hawaii’s agriculture.

Previously much focus has been on support for these companies and their distribution systems. This has to change and the focus redirected to support farmers and our own food production agriculture. None of what I’ve said above has touched on animal production. How much meat and fish we import versus local supplies.

I’ve not taken into account the huge amount of frozen fruit (mango, guava and lilikoi) puree we import. Puree we can be produced locally with a little assistance.

Hawaiian farmers will be looking to the new state leadership for this
assistance and a refocus on profitable, for farmers, production agriculture.

We must make agriculture desirable for the next generation.

Ken Love
President, Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers
Captain Cook

(Farming with Love is a semi-regular column by Kona resident Ken Love, a specialist in tropical fruit horticulture and market development. Love works on sustainability issues for Hawaii farmers, value-added product development and farmer-chef relations. Contact Love at

One Response to “Farming with Love: What can we do with $26.5 million?”

  1. George Kent says:

    The proposal here is “to levy an inspection fee of 10 cents a pound on all imported produce that competes with what Hawaiian farmers grow and sell.” Hawaiian farmers could grow and sell many items, many more than they currently produce. In the nineteenth century Hawai’i was a significant rice exporter. Should we be producing rice now?

    Reading the surrounding argument, it seems clear that the intention would be to deter imports. This would violate the principle and laws developed under the interstate commerce clause in the US constitution, which basically says states cannot impose tariffs on goods traded between the states, or do anything else that would have a similar effect. The state’s lawyers know that this proposal would be shot down in court, so they would reject the idea.

    There is also the concern that restraining trade through tariffs or similar devices would result in higher food costs in the state. That might make farmers happy, but it probably would not be welcomed by consumers who are not farmers.

    Sorry to dash your hopes.

    Aloha, George


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