Bill will preserve Hawaii's hard-pressed farming industry
The Hawaii Farm Bureau strongly supports Senate Bill 2646 on "Important Agricultural Lands." This bill is an agricultural incentive package that will begin the process of designation of important agricultural lands by assuring the presence of viable agricultural enterprises on those lands.
It is a critical time for our agricultural industry with the added challenges of rising costs of fertilizer, fuel, seeds, transportation, water and labor. The temporary loss of our major interisland carrier has left farmers hard pressed to recover the losses experienced in the interim. As an industry, our future is precarious and SB 2646 addresses many of these concerns to help make farmers more viable and ensure that agriculture is a player in Hawaii's future.
Small and large farmers are at risk, including myself, Aloun Farms, Hamakua Springs, Larry Jefts and many others in our industry. We are faced with growing infrastructure costs due to food safety, degrading water delivery systems and new demands by quality-conscious consumers. This bill insures a commitment by farmers and land owners that agriculture will be viable and productive in the future of Hawaii.
We have had many wake-up calls of late. The recent threat of the loss of Aloha Airlines' cargo service would have seriously affected many farmers and possibly even closed the door on some farm operations throughout the state. The shutdown of Aloha Airlines was a critical call at a critical time, highlighting the need to encourage our own local economy to be stronger.
Among the many recent challenges that have placed Hawaii agriculture in a precarious situation are transportation concerns, the economic downturn, tightening of credit and high fuel costs. The latest series of setbacks for local farmers include rate increases for Less than Container Load service, rising input costs, labor shortages and the closing of Weyerhaeuser's Honolulu box production plant (which had supplied many growers with produce boxes).
Just remember that every farmer who shuts down means the loss of another source of food, feed or fiber, and another place of employment.
There has been a lot of misinformation about the last section of this bill pertaining to the "85-15" provision for the landowners, which would allow them to designate 85 percent of their lands as important agricultural land and 15 percent being zoned rural, urban or conservation. In the bill, there are many safeguards to discourage the kind of abuse that the environmentalists are claiming. Lands put into IAL would have to be the best quality agricultural lands and not those marginal agricultural lands or lands just for open space. Lands reclassified would have to fit county or community development plans, and most important, the process to take lands out of "important agricultural lands" status under this provision are the most stringent on the books.
We ask that you look beyond the rhetoric of the environmental activists and recognize the benefits that could result for agriculture and ultimately the people of Hawaii with increased levels of self-sufficiency.
Think of what kind of future you want agriculture to play in our state. How dependent do we want to be on the importation of our food supply? If we don't want to be dependent on importation, then I would guess that support of this bill is essential to the future survival of agriculture.
The initiative crafted in Act 183, which is finally about to be implemented via SB 2646, is a landmark initiative in agricultural preservation. It will set an example in the nation of how a state can strongly set not only policy but a program that strongly supports agriculture for tomorrow.
We continually lose agricultural lands to development under our present system. We must start to nurture strong agricultural operations and in the process identify our important agricultural lands and preserve them for future generations. The governor and the people should support the passage of SB 2646 for the future of Hawaii!
Dean J. Okimoto is president of the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation, a nonprofit general agricultural organization.