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Tuesday, September 16, 2014         

ISLAND VOICES


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Legislature did its part to help rejuvenate locally grown food resources

By Sen. Clarence Nishihara

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Last fall during his campaign, Gov. Neil Abercrombie said that it is time for an agricultural renaissance in Hawaii, as more than 80 percent of our food is now imported; only 50 years ago about half of our food was produced locally.

During the legislative session, we took those words to heart.

It is time for Hawaii, its government and its people to pay more attention to what has been happening to our agricultural lands. This is especially true since the cost of food that is imported to the islands continues to rise higher and higher, with much of that cost due to the rising cost of fuel to transport it here.

Accordingly, the Legislature spent considerable time traveling around the state, looking at our farmlands and equipment, talking to farmers and their staffs and investigating just how our food is grown and brought to market.

In the end, several important laws were passed that should help rejuvenate our locally grown food resources.

To start with, approval of Senate Bill 1153 will make it easier to fund new farms. There has been increased interest in diversified agriculture in recent years, but funding for such projects has been difficult because of high interest rates and a relatively low loan amount approved by financial institutions. We felt that all individuals who have the ability, experience and desire to operate a farm should be given the opportunity. So, the House and Senate passed legislation that will give qualified new farmers the ability to borrow up to $250,000 at loan rates greatly reduced from recent years. Our hope is that this will open the door to more farming ventures.

Regarding Hawaii's irrigation systems, access to water is obviously critical to any farming project, and many of the state's systems are very old, inefficient and in need of repair.

To correct this, approval of Senate Bill 145 will provide funding to improve and maintain irrigation systems across the state. Locations already identified for such assistance include the Waiahole, Waimanalo, Kau and Molokai irrigation systems, the upcountry Maui watershed, the Kekaha and Hamakua ditches and the Kahuku agricultural park.

Approval of a separate bill, Senate Bill 142, will allow the state to also help fund improvements to dams and reservoirs that supply water for farms and ranches.

Finally, in compliance with new federal standards, we amended current regulations in House Bill 667 to ensure that all food grown and packaged in Hawaii is done so in a safe manner. The state Department of Agriculture will have a new food safety and security program that will provide training, certification and support to our farmers in a costeffective and efficient manner. This should make all of our farm owners, managers and laborers, as well as government agencies overseeing this industry, in alignment with safe food production practices.

All of these new efforts should make a positive impact, but we know they are just a start. For Hawaii's farms to thrive and have a true renaissance, we must ensure there is sustainable, locally produced fertilizer, energy and feed, as well as financial assistance in the form of tax credits, crop insurance and the like. Moreover, our communities, from government institutions to hotels, restaurants and food chains, all need to focus on buying local whenever possible.

This will all take time, but eventually our farms and ranches in Hawaii can again become a major source of food for our people, and perhaps the world. That is our objective.






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