Many papaya growers are worried that their unsecured farms will be the next ones hit
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 3, 2010
Big Island papaya farmers and an Oahu produce wholesaler are lending their support to Laureto Julian, who lost 8,500 papaya trees worth more than $100,000.
"I talked to quite a few farmers in the last day and a half," said Big Island Farm Bureau President Delan Perry. "The farmers are individually and as a group going to help Mr. Julian out."
The 65-year-old Julian does not know how he's going to pay his bills after vandals cut down more than half of the 14,000 papaya trees on his 17-acre leased farm Tuesday night.
Tai Wang, owner of wholesale company Super Foods Inc., was buying about 4,000 to 8,000 pounds of papayas a week from Julian, who also supplies other wholesalers.
"I talked to him this morning and I offered whatever help I can," Wang said. "He has other fruits -- maybe not as good quality. I try to do my best to sell for him. I told him I'd do whatever I can to help him support his family."
As Julian walked by rows of decapitated trees two days later, he pointed out the various angles of the cuts on the tree trunks.
"They used a machete," he said. "The cuts are different angles. I think maybe five of them did this."
A police report says the trees were worth about $100,000. Julian says he is insured but was told acts of vandalism are not covered.
"It's my future for my farm," Julian said. "I cannot sleep last night. I don't mind if God punish me for something, but we don't deserve this."
Julian said he wasn't sure what his next move was going to be. "I don't know how I'm going to pay bills," he said.
The incident comes about one month after someone chopped down nearly 400 papaya trees at an Oahu farm. The culprits in this case also attacked at night, apparently with a machete.
Julian's trees were about 18 months old and had just begun to bear fruit.
After expenses like seeds and materials, plus wages for his part-time worker and two full-time laborers -- whom he also provides with health insurance -- Julian said he brings home about $35,000 a year.
He lives in Tangerine Acres, about six miles from his farmland, with his wife, Elizabeth, and his two sons and daughter. He also has two grown children who helps with the farming, including Jane Vigilla, 39.
The extent of the damage to his field and the thoroughness with which his crop had been destroyed made him worry that the cutting was a deliberate attempt by a competitor to hurt his business.
"Maybe it was somebody jealous," he said.
His son Rudy said family members feared that if they went through all the trouble of replanting, the same people might just return and destroy everything again.
"We worry," he said.
Wang said the impact to Julian is far greater than to the wholesalers, who can get fruit from other growers, or consumers, who probably will not see any increase in prices since summertime means a lot of fruit.
"If it happened two to three months ago during the drought, you would see a big impact," he said.
The Hawaii Papaya Industry Association has about 200 to 250 members, and many other growers are not members, Perry said, which means a lot of flexibility in the market.
Wang spoke to many other papaya growers yesterday who are concerned about their own farms being victimized by vandals. Few, if any, have fences or security, he said.
Perry said, "Most of their assets are out in the field, and they're not necessarily there so they are at risk."
He said Julian's farm has telephone lines but no electrical lines to install any kind of security system.
Star-Advertiser reporter Leila Fujimori and The Associated Press contributed to this report.