Tuesday, July 29, 2014         

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Vandals chop Big Isle papaya trees

Opinions vary on possible motivations for the destruction of 8,500 plants at a farm

By Gregg K. Kakesako


Big Island police are seeking clues to the destruction of 8,500 papaya trees, valued at more than $100,000, at a 17-acre farm in Kapoho this week.

"They knew how to handle knives or machetes, and some of them were cut using one chop," said farmer Laureto Julian, who said he believes the vandalism was carried out by at least five people familiar with farming techniques.

The vandals left the fruit on the ground.

The destroyed trees comprised more than half of Julian's 14,000 papaya trees, he said yesterday. "It's a big loss for me and my family," said Julian, who has grown papaya since 1967.

"This will effectively put him out of business," said Lorie Farrell, executive director of the Big Island Farm Bureau.

It was second known case in two months of a papaya farm being vandalized. In May someone chopped down 397 of 500 papaya trees at a Mililani farm operated by Jerry Punzal.

Julian, like many Big Island farmers, grows a GMO (genetically modified organism) strain of papaya. But he said he does not believe the damage was the work of people who oppose genetically modified food.

Delan "Rusty" Perry, president of both the Big Island Farm Bureau and the Hawaii Papaya Industry, called it "an isolated case" and said he does not believe it was sabotage or the work of eco-terrorists.

But William Julian, Laureto's brother and a former papaya farmer himself, speculated that the destruction was the work of people who oppose GMO crops or the use of chemicals to control weeds and pests. A strain of genetically modified papaya was developed in part by the University of Hawaii to be resistant to ring spot virus.

"It's people who are against the way we grow our crops," said William Julian, who said he left the papaya growing business two years ago because someone was destroying his crops.

William Julian said he does not stay in touch with brother, but he doubts it is the work of rival growers.

Laureto Julian said his trees were chopped down sometime between June 26 and 30. He had last been at the farm Saturday, and when he returned Wednesday morning "it looked like the trees were freshly cut."

"He has no known enemies," said Farrell, of the Farm Bureau. "There is no known reason for this to occur."

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