Letters to the Editor

December, 2014

Herbicide Damage Is Covered Up

“Can Hawaii Feed Itself?” (November 2014) is the most reasoned and supported overview I’ve had the pleasure of reading in my 64 years of professional involvement in Hawaii’s agriculture.

Not mentioned were the extreme crop and farm losses and disruption to Hawaii’s agricultural programs and economy as a result of the introduction of two volatile herbicides – atrazine and ametryn – in sugar and pineapple in the mid-1960s. This, and what followed, has become a major factor in Hawaii’s current inability to feed itself.

How did you miss it? You missed it because it is vastly under-appreciated by most of today’s farmers and it is still aggressively covered up as policy on the part of the Hawaii state government and the University of Hawaii.

—Robert T. MartinFounder, Biological Applications Inc.

Don’t Build on Best Farmland

Thank you for HB’s excellent sustainability issue (November 2014). I did want to share a few thoughts on your editor’s note (“Love the Aina, But Love the People, Too”). While it is true that much of Hawaii’s lands are zoned for agriculture, the comments “Hawaii has more than enough farmland to feed Hawaii” and “we can spare a few thousand (acres) to house more of our own” are generalizations that require a deeper look.

As you know, Hawaii imports over 85 percent of its food, and studies have identified access to land as a major barrier to improving Hawaii’s food security. Many acres of agriculturally zoned land are fallow – the landowners don’t use their land for farming. Much of the acreage you reference is also being used for ranching, rather than food production.

There is also more to “farmable” land than simple zoning. Much of the ag-zoned lands are not suitable for farming for a variety of reasons: lack of access to water, poor drainage, soil quality, lava, elevation issues, steepness and gulches are just a few examples. Additionally, the construction of expensive homes on “gentlemen’s estates” drives up the price of land and makes true ag lands even more unobtainable for farmers.

Successful farmers need long-term, affordable access to land. However, most farmers cannot afford to purchase land in Hawaii, where the price of agricultural land often has no relation to the land’s true agricultural value and financial return. Farmers also find it difficult to secure long-term affordable leases of agricultural land because most private landowners of ag-zoned land provide short-term or month-to-month leases, so they can easily sell the land or convert it to more profitable uses. Without long leases, farmers are often unable to secure financing to invest in their land/business or buy equipment.

Yes, we have a shortage of housing and an ever-growing population. Building affordable housing in areas that have been thoughtfully evaluated is a current need. However, it’s more important than ever before to make smart and thoughtful decisions before developing every flat acre available. Profit-driven developers often don’t consider what will be best for Hawaii in 50 or 150 years. Development is a slippery slope, and once prime agricultural lands are lost to housing, you can never get them back.

I find your evaluation of the amount of land available and being used for farming – and the state of agriculture in Hawaii in general – to be rather under-researched. I don’t disagree that we need more affordable housing, but building it on grade A and B agricultural-zoned lands is not the right solution.

—Leslie UptainDirector of Philanthropy, The Trust for Public Land

Great article on Transportation

This story (“As the Nation Turns, Hawaii Is Still Driven,” November 2014) is the most thoroughly researched and balanced article on transportation in Hawaii that I ever read. Fantastic job.
—Posted online by shemtheo

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