March 2004 Q&A
Fresh Talk From Stakeholders
The economic outlook for 2004 is optimistic. Do you share this view for agriculture this coming year? What’s in store for you to support your view?
Kunimoto: Agriculture in Hawaii has been one of the bright spots in the state’s economy for the past decade, and all indications are that this will continue. Farm revenues for 2002 totaled about $536 million, a 2 percent increase over the previous year. The Hawaii Agricultural Statistical Service also reported that year-over-year gains for sugarcane and pineapple, along with record highs for several diversified crops, lifted revenues to the highest level since 1991.
Takemoto: I am very optimistic for the future of Hawaii’s agricultural industry. For the past five years, and despite 9/11, Hawaii’s agriculture continues to show a consistent growth pattern. Unlike the tourism industry, the agricultural industry does not experience sharp month-to-month spikes. Its steady growth continues to be the only stable sector in Hawaii’s economy.
Jefts: We’ve had sustained growth for a while now, and I don’t expect that to change. We are a consumer-driven company. When consumers look forward to a good year, they decide to spend more, which means a good year for us. We’re looking at increasing our employees by 5 percent. We have some new crops coming on line, including Roma tomatoes and romaine lettuce. We now produce three-fourths of a pound of fresh produce for every man, woman and child in the state every week for 52 weeks. We have our sights on making that one pound of fresh local produce.
What are the biggest problems you see facing the industry right now?
Kunimoto: The state is at a critical crossroads as it attempts to deal with the complex issues involving agricultural land resources in Hawaii. Recent legal, legislative and regulatory decisions have brought these issues to the forefront of discussion and debate across the state, intensifying the literal tug-of-war between divergent interests.
Most recently, the Agricultural Working Group, a group assembled from a wide range of stakeholders, renewed attempts to tackle this daunting task. The future of a flourishing and expanding agricultural industry relies on the development of a system that relieves development pressure on important agricultural lands.
Takemoto: Among the many unique challenges facing the agricultural industry, some of the more significant are food safety regulations, agricultural theft, land tenure, water availability, shortage of labor and changes in the agricultural real-property tax valuations. All of these directly impact the farmer’s viability to continue to do business.
Jefts: Very few citizens, the voting public, understand the potential of diversified agriculture here. It hasn’t sunk in that our production areas are at risk. Right now we raise a substantial amount of food for local consumption. If we set our minds to it, farmers here can raise almost everything we need for food. Farmers not only feed our people, but we keep and preserve the green, open spaces that make up the natural beauty of our Islands that tourists come here for and that future generations can enjoy, as well.
What do you see as the key trends emerging in local agriculture?
Kunimoto: In making the transition from large sugar- and pineapple-plantation farming to other diversified crops, the number of small farms has increased. And now we are seeing successful small farms expanding their acreage and types of commodities. Hawaii farmers are also becoming more business savvy, especially in areas of marketing and promotion. The success of local farmers’ markets around the state indicates that there is a great potential to develop a world-class farmers’ market in a permanent site, not only to meet local demand, but also to provide a visitor destination that showcases the best of Hawaii’s agricultural products. Exposing visitors to quality Hawaii food products will make them ambassadors for Hawaii products around the world.
Takemoto: The new trends emerging in Hawaii’s agriculture include the expansion of aquaculture, agritourism, organic farming and the biotechnology industry. Hawaii’s unique natural resources and prime location are ideal for the growth of aquaculture. Agritourism activities are growing in popularity from farm tours and bed-and-breakfasts to dude ranches. However, properly regulating agritourism activities must be in place to ensure that this activity does not have a negative impact on surrounding farm operations. Organic farming has great potential in Hawaii, and we are seeing some local farmers changing to organic practices to improve their marketing and increase their product pricing. Biotechnology, involving genetically modified crops, is one of the largest growing sectors in the agricultural industry, especially in the seed industry for export.
Jefts: In my more than 25 years of farming here, I see more opportunity than ever. We’ll continue to see land moving out of traditional ag use and, hopefully, into diversified ag. So little land now is consumed by diversified ag, but, with what we have, we can raise more crops now with less resources and for higher value than traditional crops. We will continue to see more core crops on more land. We’ll see more entrepreneurial farmers – farmers who are not stuck raising certain crops, because that’s what they always did, but who are willing to take risks to meet consumer needs. And we will see more awareness and respect for diversification of agriculture, when the thinking starts to change from “can’t do” to “can do.”