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Farmer worries about future after papaya trees are cut down

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KAPOHO, Hawaii >> Big Island farmer Laureto Julian doesn’t know how he’s going to pay his bills after vandals cut down all of his 8,500 papaya trees.

The 65-year-old said someone cut down every tree on his 17-acre leased farm Tuesday night.

As he 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’s insured but was told acts of vandalism aren’t 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.

Julian’s customers include direct marketers Super Foods Inc. in Honolulu, D&K Distributors in Pearl City, and Hilo Products Inc.

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.

Vigilla said her family is trying to figure out how her dad can provide for the family until they get a new crop ready to harvest.

“I talked to my dad (Wednesday) about replanting, but he said it would be faster to wait for the trees to reshoot, which would be a little less than a year,” Vigilla said.

“Farming is hard enough in itself to make ends meet. … We’re thinking how dad can work it out.”

Each crop of papaya trees bears fruit for about three years, and then the land must be left fallow for a year before it is replanted to allow nutrients to return to the soil. He said that over the last 20 years, this was the fourth time he had replanted the 17 acres with papaya.

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 to all of the trouble of replanting, the same people might just return and destroy everything again.

“We worry,” he said.

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