Survey: Big Island farmers lost $28M because of volcano

HILO — A survey of Big Island farmers has found that they suffered nearly $28 million in damages because of the months-long eruption earlier this year of the Kilauea volcano, the Hawaii Tribune Herald reported.

The survey of 46 farmers by University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources found they collectively lost an estimated $27.9 million in destroyed property, the newspaper reported.

Of the total damages reported, nearly two thirds — $17 million — was damage to crops, while destroyed land, buildings and inventory accounted for $4.1 million, $3.3 million and $3 million in losses, respectively, the Herald Tribune reported.

The survey found that $13.3 million of the reported damages were from the floriculture industry, with another $6.5 from the papaya industry and $2.5 from the macadamia nut industry.

The Hawaii Floriculture and Nursery Association, which requested the University conduct the survey, advised that the data from the survey is not all-inclusive but provides a snapshot of how devastating the eruption was for the island’s agricultural industries.

Eric Tanouye, president of the Hawaii Floriculture and Nursery Association, told the newspaper that the Kapoho region, now mostly buried in lava, had ideal conditions for orchid growers. After the eruption, Tanouye estimated that 10 percent of the Association’s roughly 300 statewide members had been affected.

Even though Tanouye said some new nurseries are beginning to see new growth, it can take up to two years to grow an orchid from seed into a plant that can be sold under ideal conditions. The farmers starting out fresh will have no cash flow during that period.

“It’s a big decision for anyone to choose to go back into debt,” Tanouye said. “Every farmer is going to have to make that ultimate decision themselves.”

The loss of equipment, land viability and inventory for the affected industries has left their future in doubt.

“It’s hard to put into dollars and cents,” said Eric Wienert, president of the Hawaii Papaya Industry Association.

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