Farmers divided on
recent heavy rainfall

Some of them gripe about damage
to their crops, but others see it
as a drought antidote

Oahu farmer Dean Okimoto, who grows salad greens for gourmet restaurants, estimates that his business has lost $140,000 in income since the rains began in December.

But Maui rancher Sumner Erdman looks forward to rebuilding his drought-stricken herd if the winter rains continue.

A shift toward more traditional rain patterns this winter has brought hope to some ranchers and farmers and misfortune to others.

The weather has been so dry in some areas of the Hawaiian Islands in the past few years that traditional winter storms are surprising some people, including farmers.

Waimanalo had nearly 2 inches of rain, more than 3.6 inches of rain fell in Ulupalakua in Upcountry Maui, and the Big Island coast south of Kilauea received 5.4 inches yesterday morning, according to the weather service.

National Weather Service lead forecaster Tim Craig said winter weather is normally more erratic, with tradewinds blowing 65 percent of the time, compared with 90 percent of the time during the summer.

He said about 35 percent of the time during the winter, people can expect either Kona storms or cold fronts bringing rain.

The storms have knocked out production so often this winter that it is wearing down some farmers.

"It gets kind of discouraging," said Okimoto, owner of Nalo Farms in Waimanalo. "We haven't had it as bad as this for probably seven years."

"We had the rains at the beginning of December, and we were down two weeks then," he said. "Then we had rains at New Year's, so we were down two weeks after that. We've been up just one week, and this hits."

The farm has kept all 24 employees on the payroll, but its workers have been busy cleaning up after the storms rather than nurturing the salad greens and herbs grown there.

Battering rains have interrupted supplies to local restaurants and will have long-term effects on the delicate plants at the farm, he said.

"When these rains hit, they're hard rains," he said. "You can think of it in terms of almost child abuse -- it will stunt their growth. When it does come back, it's not as hearty. It's going to start hurting really bad pretty soon."

On Kauai, at Gay & Robinson, one of Hawaii's two surviving sugar companies and the largest landowner on Kauai, workers are three to four weeks behind in replanting 3,000 acres because of muddy fields, a spokesman said.

Kilauea Agronomics, also known as Guava Kai gift shop on Kauai, suffered some minor damage when several windbreak trees fell on about 10 guava trees, said operations superintendent Derrick Nishimura.

On Maui, Kula farmer Thomas Watanabe estimates he has lost up to 90 percent of his crop of green onions and tens of thousands of dollars because of heavy wind and rain this week.

Watanabe and Maui farmer Bryan Otani, whose estimated vegetable crop production has dropped by at least 10 percent to 15 percent, said they may have to rethink the way they plant their crops if winters continue to bring powerful storms.

Watanabe said he may have to build higher banks around the field to redirect the wind and rainwater.

But the rains have been good news to some farmers and ranchers.

On the Big Island, Lee Kunitake at the U.S. Farm Service Agency said farmers were happy.

"We were in a drought situation, and they welcome the rain," he said.

Erdman, president of Ulupalakua Ranch on Maui, said he has had about as much rain in December and January as he has had for 11 months of last year, and he is looking forward to more rainfall.

For the first time in six years, the ground has been saturated with enough rain so there is moisture in the soil, he said.

Erdman, who manages 20,000 acres and about 2,000 breeding cows, said he hopes to rebuild his herd, which is 16 percent down from six years ago.

"These used to be the winters we used to have," Erdman said. "It's very nice to see it coming back."

Star-Bulletin reporters Susan Essoyan, Rod Thompson and Anthony Sommer contributed to this report.


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