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State chipping in for farms’ compost purchases

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The state Department of Agriculture wants to help local farmers buy compost under a new pilot program established by Hawaii lawmakers and paid for by tax­payers.

Up to $650,000 is available through March for Hawaii agricultural producers to be reimbursed for half the cost of compost up to $100,000 per applicant.

The funding was provided under a 2017 bill that became law last year and was aimed at reducing the amount of food waste going to landfills or getting incinerated. However, the law and the program don’t require that compost be made from local food waste. Mulch from decayed plant material or even packaged compost from the mainland sold locally in retail stores qualifies.

Department of Agriculture officials lobbied for the money last year as a way to reduce costs that burden many Hawaii farmers.

“This reimbursement program is aimed at providing assistance to farmers to ease some of the operational cost relating to the purchase of composting material,” Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser, director of the state Department of Agriculture, said in a statement announcing the program.

House Bill 1577 from 2017 was originally a measure aimed at expanding composting programs at public schools. But the measure stalled that year, and was converted last year into the farmer subsidy that became Act 89 in 2018.

The Department of Agriculture recently finished setting up the program, and earlier this month announced that it is accepting applications. Reimbursement money is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Todd Low, a department program manager, said no one had applied as of Monday.

The law appropriated $1 million over three years for compost reimbursements, but only $650,000 was made available over not quite two years.

There is a $50,000 reimbursement cap per applicant per state fiscal year, and the first year ends June 30, though compost purchased between July 1, 2018, and June 30 can qualify.

The law also directs the Department of Agriculture to present program results to the Legislature and report on whether the pilot should be continued in some form.

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