Dominic Kadooka has seen some tough, dry summers during his 15 years of growing sweet corn in Waimanalo.
This summer is shaping up to be one of the toughest.
"Everybody is in the same boat," he said yesterday as he prepared to clear a field for planting. "It’s just a matter of waiting for the rain."
Statewide, farmers are struggling to keep their crops irrigated and are using more water, planting fewer crops or letting crops die because of extreme drought conditions that started nearly a year ago—and are only getting worse.
With no relief in sight, farmers are increasingly worried about how they’re going to continue getting produce to markets.
"If the rain doesn’t come, basically the pasture goes dry," said Mae Nakahata, president of the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation. "The biggest fear is, these farmers, how long can they sustain losses?"
For shoppers, the drought means local produce could get more expensive—or harder to find. Farmers say they’re spending more on overhead (largely on more water), and in some cases aren’t planting fields because they can’t afford the extra water. Farmers are even seeing crops die in the dry weather.
Making matters worse, no heavy rains are in the short- or long-term forecast. The Climate Prediction Center anticipates below-normal rainfall through the summer.
"I think the general consensus seems to be that this is (the) worst drought that anybody has ever experienced," said Nancy Pisicchio of the Kona County Farm Bureau. "Crops are really in jeopardy."
Pisicchio said the drought is affecting everything from lettuce and flowers to macadamia nuts and coffee.
It’s still too early to gauge the impact the drought will have on crop yields, she said, but added consumers should be prepared to pay more for local produce.
Some 88 percent of the state is experiencing drought conditions, and rain gauges statewide are seeing rainfall totals far below normal.
The situation is so bad that last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture promised $88,000 to farmers statewide struggling through the dry conditions as part of $12.5 million in grant money to farms and ranches nationwide affected by natural disasters.
Waimanalo farmers are being especially hard hit in the drought, given new mandatory restrictions on water at the Waimanalo reservoir, which is "critically low" at just under 12 feet.
Clifford Migita, president of the Waimanalo Agriculture Association, said farmers who are able to are using city water. But that’s more than twice as expensive as water from the reservoir. Others are planting fewer crops or watching crops die.
"Without the water, one, two days, the seedlings will dry up," Migita said. "It’s pretty critical."
Grant Hamachi, owner of Hamachi Farm, said he has turned to city water to irrigate his vegetable and banana crops. He said he isn’t able to pass much of those higher water costs to consumers, though, because there’s only so much they’re willing to pay.
"You get it too high, the consumers won’t buy it," Hamachi said.
In Waimanalo yesterday, there wasn’t a rain cloud in sight.
Kadooka, who grows corn to sell on the street or at farmers markets, said he usually plants about 18 acres on his Waimanalo farm. This summer, he’s got 8 acres planted. Weeds fill the other fields because there isn’t enough rain or water from the reservoir to irrigate corn.
Kadooka anticipates his revenues are down by half compared to last year. "All I can do," he said, "is take care of my fields."