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Nonprofit plans agricultural park for local farmers

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A nonprofit established three years ago to support farming in Hawaii plans to set up an agricultural park for small farmers in Kunia on land owned by the Army and a private development partner.

The Hawaii Agricultural Foundation hopes to interest 10 or more local farmers in leasing the roughly 200-acre property formerly planted in pineapple and sugar cane.

Lease terms — including rents and the length of leases — have yet to be set, though the foundation aims to have initial tenants on the land by the end of the year, according to Dean Oki­moto, a Wai­ma­nalo farmer serving as the foundation’s president.

A groundbreaking ceremony at the site is scheduled for today.

The land is part of 2,400 acres the Army and development partner Lend Lease bought in 2008 from Campbell Estate for $32 million, according to property rec­ords.

Ann M. Choo Wharton, a spokes­woman for the Army-Lend Lease venture known as Island Palm Communities, said the Army initially planned to expand housing for nearby Schofield Barracks on a small piece of the property. But the Army’s housing needs changed, which prompted the landowners to seek tenants for the whole property.

Monsanto in 2009 leased 1,675 acres for 40 years to grow seed corn. The Army and Lend Lease have 680 acres available for lease and are considering possible renewable-energy uses on another piece of the land, Wharton said.

The roughly 200 acres for the ag park is part of what Monsanto leases. As part of the Monsanto lease, the Army and Lend Lease required that 10 percent of the land be made available to local farmers.

"When Monsanto first came to Kunia, we made a commitment to participating in community initiatives that would promote local agriculture," said Fred Perlak, vice president of research and business operations for Monsanto in Hawaii.

Okimoto said Monsanto committed to help prepare the land for farming again, including providing assistance with clearing the site and neutralizing herbicide residue in the soil left over from past use.

Okimoto, who owns Nalo Farms, said the Kunia site is suitable for a wide variety of crops from tomatoes to pineapples.

"Almost anything will grow up there," he said.

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