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Big Isle papaya farmers’ loss estimated at $53M

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First Hawaiian Bank establishes Puna relief fund

HILO » Hawaii island farmers are assessing damage to crops after Tropical Storm Iselle made landfall last weekend.

"It was pretty clear to us that the papaya farmers took the highest amount of damage," Richard Ha, president of the Hamakua Springs Country Farms, told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald. "Estimation of the sales lost, plus the startup, the bulldozing costs and growing up to that first year, when they’re ready to harvest again is about $53 million," he said.

"People have been flying overhead to look over the damage with helicopters. The damage is devastating. Some folks have about 80 percent damage. Some folks’ farms had less, of course, but the damage is extremely high," Ha said.

State and federal agriculture officials spoke with local farmers Monday, he said.

Ha said the banana crop wasn’t affected as much because it’s at a higher elevation. 

Coffee and macadamia nut growers on the southern end of the island also had damage. Ka’u Farms Management estimates it lost about 1,000 coffee trees and another 2,000 macadamia nut trees, said Randy Stevens, with field operations of Ka’u Farms Management and manager of Ka’u Coffee Mill.

"We have 100 acres of coffee. It’s probably less than 10 percent of our overall field, but it is significant. A thousand trees producing 100 to 200 pounds of bean a season at $2 a pound is a lot of money," he said. 

The macadamia nut crop also was damaged by the high winds and rain, with 2,000 trees — including a recent planting of 1,200 new trees — is lost, said John Cross, land manager for the Ed Olson Trust, which owns Ka’u Farms Management and Ka’u Coffee Mill.

Ornamental flower growers on the eastern side of the island also were impacted by the storm.

Eric Tanouye, vice president of Green Point Nurseries, said three of his four five-acre greenhouses had roof damage.

"Our crop is cut foliage, so there is going to be substantial damage," he said. "The crop already is bruised already with the wind. Normally after these kinds of storms you get heavy, heavy rain or you get no rain or hot, dry scorching sun. The heat is just above the plants right now. If sun hits, you’re gonna have burn."

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