The U.S. Department of Agriculture said natural disasters, including the Kilauea eruption, damaged and destroyed nearly 3,900 acres of Hawaii farms in 2018.
A recent survey conducted by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, in cooperation with the state Department of Agriculture, found that multiple products — from cattle to papayas to macadamia nuts — were greatly affected.
A total of 3,894 Hawaii farm acres were damaged or destroyed by natural disasters or weather conditions, primarily macadamia nuts and papayas, in 2018. Cattle losses in 2018 totaled 2,178 head, but twice as many, approximately 4,200, in other categories were lost.
The first Hawaii Crop & Livestock Loss survey was conducted during the fall of this year to determine the number of animals lost and acres destroyed or damaged by disasters or weather events in the previous year.
Gary Keough, a director at the Pacific Regional field office, said the Kilauea eruption’s impact prompted the survey but that the USDA wanted it to be comprehensive, and included other natural disasters, such fires and floods statewide.
Several categories were not published, however, in order to avoid disclosure of information for small or limited farms in the state.
NASS mailed the survey questionnaire to Hawaii farms, with follow-up phone calls to a sample size of 750 farms, which included farmers in all of Hawaii’s counties.
The road to recovery is a long one for those affected by the Kilauea eruption, according to Diane Ley, Hawaii County’s director of research and development.
While some farmers have relocated, including a co-op of orchid growers that moved from Kapoho to Keaau, many are still recovering, she said, and some roads damaged by lava, particularly ones that affected papaya growers, have yet to reopen. The reopening of Highway 132 will help significantly.
Last fall the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources conducted its own survey of Big Island farms affected by the Kilauea eruption, and tallied losses at nearly $28 million.
The quality of the air, however, has improved vastly since the eruption ended, and that has given farms a boost of hope.
“I’d say we’ve had improvement in the air quality since the eruption stopped — vast improvement,” she said. “We just do not have vog anymore, and that provides for better photosynthesis. We’ve also had steady rain.”
She noted that USDA has launched a new Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus, or WHIP+, program, which offers assistance for agricultural producers affected by natural disasters in 2018 and 2019.
The USDA survey found 1,475 acres of macadamia nuts damaged, along with 705 acres of papaya, 218 acres of taro, 200 acres of commercial floriculture and 1,213 acres of other crops, which includes ones not listed in the questionnaire, such as coffee, sweet potatoes and fruit trees.
For livestock, 2,178 cattle and 124 goats were lost.
Of the crops damaged, only 590 acres, or roughly 15%, were replanted, including 58 acres of floriculture, 109 acres of papaya and 41 acres of vegetables. Some 382 acres of other crops, including coffee and fruit trees, as well as macadamia nuts and taro, were also replanted.