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New farm-related law in limbo over funding


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POSTED: Sunday, July 26, 2009

House Bill 1471 became law last week when the Legislature overrode the governor's veto, but the release of $140,000 from the tourism special fund remains uncertain.

The funds would have gone toward University of Hawaii programs that help farmers make changes necessary to pass an audit for certification.

At present a very small number of farms are food-safety certified—41, to date this year, which is a considerable jump from just 2 in 2004.

But this is a minuscule 0.5 percent of the total farms in the state (7,500 including livestock).

At the heart of the debate over the funds is whether tourism funds should be used to help Hawaii's farmers.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority must approve the release of those funds from its budget, with Gov. Linda Lingle's approval, which isn't likely.

Lingle vetoed the measure, saying it would divert state tourism funds for a program already adopted by some Hawaii farmers voluntarily.

Mike McCartney, chief executive of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, says though he supports the intent of the bill, it is contingent on the Agriculture Department releasing funds as well.

With tourism at a critical low, HTA is devoting 86 percent of its funds to marketing.

“;This is a great program,”; said McCartney. “;It's just the timing of it, and the availability of funds will probably not make it possible because of other priorities. We'll take a look at it in the future.”;

Dean Okimoto, president of the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation, disagreed.

“;We are partners with tourism,”; said Okimoto. “;I believe agriculture should be at the table with tourism. We depend on tourism as much as any other industry. Without tourists eating our food, we don't have a market, either.”;

HOUSE BILL 1471

» Status: Became law when the Legislature overrode the governor's veto

» What it does: Establishes a pilot program within the state Department of Agriculture encouraging farmers to form cooperatives; coordinate purchasing agreements with hotels, restaurants and others buyers in the hospitality industries; and develop safe food certification

» Funds to be appropriated: $140,000

» The question: Whether those funds will be appropriated. It requires approval from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the state Department of Agriculture and the governor.