Legislative yield was bountiful for farmers
During this past legislative session, there was a higher level of awareness and support for the initiatives of the farming community.
As the state faced years of economic hardship, the agricultural industry was not a high priority. Now that the economy is stronger and more resources are available, lawmakers seized the opportunity to fully support Hawaii's agricultural industry.
This reinvestment into our local agricultural industry provides not only financial support, but it also assures thousands of farm families their future well-being and reaffirms that agriculture continues to be a strong contributor to Hawaii's economy.
Lawmakers acted quickly, introducing a bill that provided the resources to maintain the irrigation infra- structure that feeds thousands of acres of important agricultural land. Irrigation systems also are vital to the future expansion of agribusinesses. Without access to affordable water, we would not be able to move toward a sustainable farming system providing a stable source of local food production.
Also, landowners and farmers can take advantage of special purpose revenue bonds to help finance the repairs and maintenance of private irrigation systems.
The Legislature recognized that research and market development are critical to keeping Hawaii's agricultural industry competitive in the global marketplace. Being an island state in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, critical resources and expertise are needed to find innovative and efficient ways to produce and market high-quality products.
The Legislature recognized that invasive species continue not only to devastate our fragile environment, but also hurt agricultural businesses. With our year-round tropical environment, heavy dependence on imported products and materials, and a high volume of visitor traffic, Hawaii is very susceptible to this problem, which not only harms the economic viability of our ranchers and farmers, but limits opportunities for Hawaii to export our products out of state. The Legislature directed resources to the Department of Agriculture to improve invasive species control measures, including better inspections at ports of entry.
While many of the measures required funding, there were several substantive measures to help expand and develop our local agribusinesses. A measure was approved that makes it easier for agribusiness to expand into tourism so long as it is directly related to a farming operation. It also directs the counties to oversee this type of agri-tourism activity. Farmers will be able to strengthen and diversify their farm business, and it provides another way of educating visitors and the general public of the importance of Hawaii's agricultural industry.
A second measure was approved making it easier for landowners to subdivide agricultural lands so that long-term leases will be afforded to small, family-farm operations.
Another measure was approved that strengthens the penalty for those caught damaging agricultural equipment, supplies and products. The passage of this bill sends a strong message and recognizes that farmers and ranchers need added protection and enforcement against theft and vandalism.
Finally, we would like to recognize and thank the leadership of both the House and Senate, especially Sen. Russell Kokubun, Sen. Brian Taniguchi, Rep. Felipe Abinsay, Rep. Ezra Kanoho, Rep. Michael Magaoay, Rep. Dwight Takamine and many other lawmakers for their support.
The Hawaii Farm Bureau has advocated for this kind of "across the board" legislation that makes a huge and overriding impact on the growth of the agricultural industry. We are encouraged that the next legislative year will be another resounding year as we continue to address the many challenges facing Hawaii's farmers and ranchers.
Dean Okimoto is president of the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation.