Vog a threat to farmers
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Kilauea's volcanic emissions are causing financial losses for Big Island farmers, who have seen crops completely wiped out due to the ongoing vog.
The farmers testified yesterday before the state House Special Committee on the effects of vog to seek help from state and federal officials in emergency loans, research and mitigation efforts.
Some farmers who are nearly out of business also are requesting funding to keep existing operations alive during the meltdown of the Big Island's farming industry.
"This is a national disaster; this could go on for years," said Rep. Bob Herkes (D, Puna-Kau-South Kona-North Kona). "The losses are enormous."
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Some Big Island farmers have seen crops wiped out due to the severe ongoing effects of Kilauea's vog, which is threatening future production and the viability of diversified agriculture in Hawaii.
VOLCANIC EMISSIONS ENDANGER CROPS
» The issue: Vog from Kilauea is destroying flower crops, plants and vegetables, particularly on the southern end of the Big Island.
» The problem: How vog is affecting the farming industry and future production.
» Solutions: They include creating a co-op nonprofit organization so that farmers can qualify for federal grants, farmers applying for federal disaster aid with the United States Department of Agriculture, and the state conducting research on the impacts of vog on various commodities and mitigation efforts.
The concentration and length of volcanic emissions - that turn into sulfur dioxide - are destroying or tarnishing crops, particularly for farmers of protea, chrysanthemums and other plants. It is a new phenomenon for members of the farming industry, who testified yesterday in the second of a series of meetings held by the state House Special Committee on the effects of vog.
"This is a national disaster, this could go on for years," said Rep. Bob Herkes, (D, Puna-Kau-South Kona-North Kona). "The losses are enormous."
The flowers and plants that have survived, particularly on the southern end of the Big Island, were ruined by the recent bout of vog and are unmarketable, farmers say, nearly forcing them out of business.
"I lost everything, I'm down to nothing, but it's out of my control," said Sam Bayaoa, owner of Flowers by Kona Scent, which specializes in exotic protea. "When the vog comes in, it burns all our leaves, deforms our flowers. If you could've seen my flower farm in December, it was beautiful."
The problem is unique to Hawaii with its thick clouds of vog generated from Halemaumau Crater since a new vent opened March 12, adding to existing vog from the Puu Oo vent of Kilauea, the world's most active volcano.
The Governor has asked the federal government to declare a national disaster.
The vog isn't only creating financial hardship for farmers, but also causing numerous job losses in areas such as Ocean View and Pahala, according to local farmers, some of whom can no longer pay their workers.
Jeffrey McCall of McCall Flower Farm Inc., in the Big Island's district of Kau, recently laid off half of his 14 workers because he no longer can sell his burned harvest.
Sales have dropped about 30 percent in the last quarter from the year-earlier period and are expected to fall by about 50 percent this year compared to sales of $830,000 to $850,000 in 2007, he said. McCall, who has been growing flowers on the Big Island for 25 years, estimates that the business has lost $100,000 in sales to date.
"It's been fairly devastating for me," he said. "Most of our outside crops we just can't grow."
Ted Seaman, who owns South Point Propagation and other farming businesses that specialize in hibiscus and hybrids for the high-end market, said he is looking for another job because he is nearly bankrupt.
"After the first outbreak, it didn't kill everything but made it unmarketable," he said. "I'm wiped out because I don't have enough to sell right now."
In addition to the vog, the compounded effects of drought, rising material and energy expenses and deteriorating infrastructure due to acid rain marks disaster for farmers.
Farmers are seeking help from state and federal officials to aid in emergency loans. They also want the state to set up vog meters and to research vog's effects and ways to mitigate it. They also are requesting funding to keep existing operations alive during the meltdown of the Big Island's farming industry.
"We need to act and act soon," said Alan Takemoto, executive director of the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation. "There's going to be an increase in losses across the board."