comscore Hawaii aims to be first to help farmers get certified organic | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Business Breaking | Top News

Hawaii aims to be first to help farmers get certified organic

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Rows of eggplant, carrots and lettuce grow at Green Rows Farm in Waimanalo on Monday. Sean Anderson, founder of the farm, hopes to take advantage of a bill passed by the Legislature which sets up tax breaks for farmers to offset the cost of becoming certified as organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Rows of kale, lettuce and herbs grow at Green Rows Farm in Waimanalo on Monday. Sean Anderson, founder of the farm, hopes to take advantage of a bill passed by the Legislature which sets up tax breaks for farmers to offset the cost of becoming certified as organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Sean Anderson, founder and farm manager of Green Rows Farm, sniffed a pile of soil in Waimanalo on Monday. Anderson hopes to take advantage of a bill passed by the Legislature which sets up tax breaks for farmers to offset the cost of becoming certified as organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Sean Anderson, founder and farm manager of Green Rows Farm, walked among banana trees in his orchard in Waimanalo on Monday. Anderson, founder of the farm, hopes to take advantage of a bill passed by the Legislature which sets up tax breaks for farmers to offset the cost of becoming certified as organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

On a farm tucked under a lush Waimanalo mountainside, Sean Anderson tends passion fruit, kale and salad greens — using only what nature provides.

He creates his own compost and fertilizers and doesn’t use chemicals. But he’s not certified as an organic farmer because the cost is too high.

“The margins on farming are so slim as it is that any additional cost really can make or break the success of your business,” said Anderson, founder and farm manager of Green Rows Farm.

That could change after Hawaii became the first state to pass legislation providing tax breaks to farmers to offset the cost of getting certified as organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Gov. David Ige has not yet decided whether he will sign it into law, a spokeswoman said.

“Hawaii is pretty well-known in agriculture policy as being in the forefront or looking at things differently,” said Doug Farquhar, director of agriculture for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The organic foods industry in the U.S. has grown to make up about 5 percent of the total food market, reaching $39.1 billion in sales in 2014, according to the Organic Trade Association.

Farmers have long been offered subsidies for crops like corn and soybeans, but the organic industry has not been widely targeted.

A federal program offers organic farmers help covering up to 75 percent of certification costs, for maximum of $750. A bill in the Minnesota Legislature would provide grants of up to $750 to farmers in financial need for organic certification costs. It will be part of negotiations as lawmakers weigh how to spend a budget surplus.

In Hawaii, the legislation would give farmers up to $50,000 in tax credits for qualifying expenses, which include application fees, inspection costs and equipment or supplies needed to produce organic products. The state would be able to give $2 million in tax breaks per year.

The cost of getting certified varies widely, ranging from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, according to the USDA. Anderson estimates it would cost him $1,000 to $1,500 per year to get and maintain certification for his 3-acre farm, he said.

“If I were certified organic, I could reach a much larger audience,” Anderson said.

Rep. Chris Lee said he introduced the bill hoping to encourage a younger generation of farmers in Hawaii, where many are approaching retirement age.

“We still import 80 to 85 percent of the food that we eat,” Lee said. “We have enormous potential for interruptions in our food supply, should there be a natural disaster or any issue that arises.”

The bill got support from the Hawaii Center for Food Safety, which has lobbied against genetically modified crops and pushed for stricter pesticide regulations on the islands.

“It is the emerging market in the U.S. for agriculture, and Hawaii has the opportunity to create a niche in that,” said Ashley Lukens, the group’s program director. “I think people are willing to pay a premium to know that their food is grown safely … but they need that label.”

Tom Yamachika, president of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii, said the proposed tax break is unusual because it would completely cover the cost of organic certification.

“Usually you want the business to have some skin in the game so they have an incentive to look for the most efficient or effective ways of accomplishing what they need to,” Yamachika said. “Because if you’re not paying for stuff, there really is no reason for you to shop to get the best price.”

Hawaii may have pulled ahead in subsidies for organic farming in part because it has fewer industries competing for tax credits compared with other states, said Farquhar, of the state legislature’s organization.

“They don’t have a major tech industry, they don’t have an oil industry … it’s tourism and fishing and agriculture, whereas in California, you have so many different interests,” Farquhar said.

Associated Press writer Kyle Potter in St. Paul, Minnesota, contributed to this report.

Comments (20)

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Terms of Service. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. Report comments if you believe they do not follow our guidelines.

Having trouble with comments? Learn more here.

Leave a Reply

  • $50,000 subsidy from Hawaii taxpayers for a three acre farm!?!?! People need to get real and understand that organic yardens are not going to feed the islands.

  • Ige, better not veto this bill. This may haunt you in the next elections if you do so. Don’t listen to the naysayers. We need organic farming as GMOs and pesticides are poisoning our land, not only for us but future generations. Environmental health comes first and we need to support our organic farmers.

  • USDA has a program where farmers can apply to have some of the certification costs reimbursed. Go to their website and check it out. It’s a three year process just to have the land certified organic and recertification is required every year. Minimum cost to start the process is $500 depending on the complexity of your plan and the agency doing the certification.

    If you are caught using the USDA Organic stickers without being certified, you face a maximum penalty of $11,000 per violation. If you are a small time farmer that sells less than $5000 worth of product a year, you don’t need a certification however you cannot sell your product to other certified organic producers to use in their products and you are not allowed to use the USDA organic label on any of your products.

    In 2010 there were 205 organic producers listed in Hawaii. As of 2015, the number has dropped to 131 producers, a 36% reduction. I haven’t looked at the stats for 2016 yet. Now you know why products with an organic sticker costs a little more than non-organic products.

    There are different labels that consumers should be aware of when purchasing organic products. They are 100% Organic, Organic and Made with organic. Each label represents the amount of organic content with 100% Organic being the most desirable and Made with organic only containing 70% of organic ingredients.

    Being 100% organic doesn’t mean your product is free of chemicals. It just means that the residual chemicals in the product are not more than 5% above the tolerance level set by the EPA. The USDA website has all this information I mentioned plus links to other sites if you want more in depth reading. CFR 7, Subtitle B, Chapter 1 Subchapter M, Part 205 Subpart C also goes in depth on minimum requirements for an organic system and handling plan.

    • As long as MONSANTO, SYNGENTA, DUPONT, PIONEER, ET AL ARE PAYING LOCAL POLITICIANS–“ORGANIC FOODS” WILL NOT FLOURISH… I LIKED YOUR INFO AND “LINKS”!!

    • Organic farming has resulted in more deaths and illnesses across the country than conventional farming, even though it only provides a small percentage of the nation’s food. Biotech crops on the other hand have a perfect safety record. No one has ever gotten so much as a sniffle from eating GE crops. If people want to risk their health and safety by eating organically grown crops, more power to them. But supporters of organic gardening shouldn’t promote their products as being healthier or more nutritious, because they certainly aren’t. In fact, statistically they are the most dangerous class of foods produced in the U.S.

  • Hawaii Tax Foundation President, Tom Yamachika makes a very good point. Governor Ige should veto the bill and have the legislature return next year to address that issue. Providing tax credits to support organic farmers may be a good policy, but not to the point where it removes any and all incentives for the farmers to be efficient in how they use those credits.

    • EOD9 has provided some good info above. Go to USDA National Organic Program website lists what can be used for certified organic production.

    • As long as the pesticide is not on the EPA prohibited use list and testing of the product shows that the residual levels are below the established limit, organic farmers are allowed the use of pesticides. Any pesticide used must be stated in their system and handling plan.

      The scam you are talking about is nothing more than uninformed folks that believe organic means 100% free of chemicals, irradiation and GMO. I thought the same until I did some research on the whole organic process. It would be nice if we didn’t have to use pesticides at all but we haven’t reached that point yet. It’s also hard to find farm land that hasn’t had some type of pesticide or chemical used on it.

      Our wonderful government used Hawaii as a testing ground for chemical weapons a long time ago. Just about every state was used for some kind of chemical testing to study the effects when used in different environments. Do a FOA request and see the book that was published on the subject. I used to have a copy of it. It was over an inch thick and showed a map of every area in each state where the testing was done.

  • The farmer Anderson says “If I were certified organic, I could reach a much larger audience”. But he doesn’t want to invest the “$1,000 to $1,500 per year to get and maintain certification for his 3-acre farm”. Doesn’t that say that the certification is not worth that much. Why waste the time and why waste taxpayers money for this?

    If farmers want to prosper, they need to find out how that one “basil farmer” had income close to $1 million last year.

    Besides, most everyone in Hawaii complains daily about the high cost of living. Does anyone think that the average person in Hawaii is going to pay premium prices for organic produce? If it only benefits the few rich people that can afford the organic produce, why do all taxpayers have to pay for it?

Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

Be the first to know
Get web push notifications from Star-Advertiser when the next breaking story happens — it's FREE! You just need a supported web browser.
Subscribe for this feature

Scroll Up