Editorial | Our View Editorial: Tussle over Hawaii’s ag lands Sept. 11, 2021 Mahalo for supporting Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Enjoy this free story! Given that Hawaii now imports more than 85% of its food — leaving us vulnerable to running out of groceries within a week or so should shipments come to an abrupt full stop — we should strengthen our sustainable food production profile. Read more Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser! You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription. Subscribe Now Read this story for free: Watch an ad or complete a survey Log In Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story. Activate Digital Account Print subscriber but without online access? Activate your Digital Account now. Given that Hawaii now imports more than 85% of its food — leaving us vulnerable to running out of groceries within a week or so should shipments come to an abrupt full stop — we should strengthen our sustainable food production profile. With that aim in mind, state law allows the transfer of certain lands from the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) to the Agriculture Department, provided both agencies agree to the switch. However, due to competing viewpoints on the most suitable land use, the two agencies don’t always agree. Since Act 90 took effect in 2003, at least 19,000 acres — consisting of ag crop land, such as former sugar cane acres — have been transferred. But the DLNR remains rightly hesitant about giving up another 100,000 eligible acres — much of it pasture land that includes public watersheds — after determining they’re important for other uses, including forest restoration. In an effort to balance interests, this year, the Legislature supported a bill that created a working group to size up the status of transfers and related challenges. In testimony, the Agriculture Department said Act 139 clears a path for establishing a “third-party advisory committee” to resolve disagreement between the agencies. Among the thorny matters the group should look at is DLNR’s leasing, licensing and permitting process. For example, the agency is required by state law to auction leases, potentially forcing farmers into bidding wars if they want to renew leases for lands on which they’ve made improvements. Also, many ranchers hold 30-day revocable permits, leaving them with month-to-month land use uncertainties. Many cattle-ranching lessees and farming advocates favor more transfers because the Ag Department wields greater flexibility to amend, extend and issue new leases by negotiation. State lawmakers should consider correcting this imbalance by giving DLNR similar flexibility for negotiating pasture leases. Another apparent snag in need of a fix: While many of the properties in question are suited for multiple uses — environmental conservation as well as recreational and hunting access — the Agriculture Department is allowed to exclude non-ag uses from consideration. Pasture lands under DLNR management are “remnant native forest with grazing allowed.” With more than half of Hawaii’s forests now gone, DLNR Chairwoman Suzanne Case said last month that the department wants to ensure that what’s left doesn’t continue to recede. Robust food sustainability is needed for Hawaii’s future, and green-lighting ag will be a delicate balancing act weighed against irreplaceable forest land. Previous Story Editorial: Remain firm on test requirements Next Story Column: What now for Honolulu’s rail project?