Agriculture Tidbits

MANGO TANGO

March, 2004

From backyard crop to market specialty, Hawaii’s mangoes are disappearing from bags left on doorsteps and re-appearing on local supermarket produce shelves. Commercial cultivation of mangoes has been spreading, as local families cut down backyard trees to expand their homes, says James Kam, who is raising Manzanilla and Rapoza varieties of the popular Hayden mangoes on his small family farm in Waianae. In 2002, mango was Hawaii’s second-best selling tropical specialty fruit, with $343,000 in sales, an impressive 64 percent increase over 2001. Eighty mango farms statewide were listed in 2002 by the Department of Agriculture; none were statistically disclosed prior to 1999.

Three years ago, Mel Matsuda and his partner, Clyde Fukuyama, of Kahuku Farms Inc., leased 25 acres of former Dole Co. land in Waialua that had been planted in Kiett and Tommy Atkins varieties of mangoes, the only two varieties approved for export under currently established USDA protocol. At this time, however, the partners only market their mangoes locally under their well-known Kahuku-Brand label.

On the other hand, mango imports to Hawaii, primarily from Mexico, quadrupled from 1998 to 2000, with over 800,000 pounds imported that year. Since then, mango imports have declined slightly, with 735,000 pounds imported in 2002.

“We’ve been getting positive responses, and people are now asking for our mangoes,” says Matsuda of their locally marketed fruit. It’s because they are farm fresh and better tasting than imports, he adds, just like the ones your neighbors once left on your doorstep.

STOP, THIEF!

Imagine a season’s worth of bananas gone from the fields in the dark of night – the work of agricultural thieves. Oahu’s North Shore banana farmers were especially hard hit last year, suffering losses estimated in the tens of thousands of dollars. Three years ago, a ring of timber poachers was caught and indicted for taking four container loads of high-value koa wood from the Big Island to Kauai – evidence that the theft of agricultural products is far-ranging and goes well beyond the occasional help-yourself-to-a-sample.

Agricultural theft is a serious, ongoing problem statewide, with farmers reporting the theft of crops, animals, equipment and tools, and vandalized fences and gates. Much theft and trespass goes unreported, according to Alan Takemoto, Government and Community Affairs representative for the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation. As a result, the actual losses can only be estimated, but are believed by many industry experts to run from hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions annually.

“Farmers cannot afford to lose their crops this way, as profit margins (in agriculture) are so low,” says Takemoto. “Enforcement has been difficult, with both police and public support needed to help in all four counties.”

H.B. 547, which aimed to deter and prevent ag theft by changing the penalty for criminal trespass in the first degree from a misdemeanor to a class-C felony, failed to pass last year’s Legislature. Theft of ag products, however, is a class-C felony, with a maximum prison sentence of five years.

THE ROYAL SHRIMP

Grab your chopsticks! The “King of Seafood,” Japan’s highly prized Kuruma shrimp, is being cultivated for the first time in the United States, right here in Hawaii, under the watchful eye of aquaculture consultant Yasuhiko Akamine. Renowned as a sushi-bar delicacy, the sweet, succulent shrimp (named “kuruma,” Japanese for “wheel,” for its curled shape) have been known to fetch the premium price of $25 a pound wholesale.

“Hawaii is ideal for the mass cultivation of this shrimp, which requires warmer waters, a clean environment and close proximity to our main market, Japan,” says Akamine, who launched the first Kuruma shrimp crop in December 2001 at Rainbow Farms in Kahuku, under a research grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Small Business Innovation Research program to Aquatic Farms, an aquaculture company. Test marketing of the product has started in Hawaii restaurants and selected cities on the Mainland.

The good news is that Hawaii Kuruma shrimp can be raised year-round and exported to fill a market void during the chilly winter in Japan. Also, since federal import regulations prevent live Kuruma shrimp from foreign countries to be imported to the United States, the made-in-Hawaii product would have an exclusive domestic market. The best news is that this hardy species can be chilled, packed and shipped live in just sawdust, with an astonishing 90 percent survival rate, even after two or three days. With shrimp replacing tuna as America’s top-selling seafood for the first time in 2002, these small delicacies might mean big rewards for Hawaii.

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