Industry leaders see need for teamwork among farmers

LIHU’E — Kauai’s diversified agricultural industry has a bright future, but

farmers won’t enjoy prosperity until they work together better and find more

markets, according to leaders of Kaua’i Farm Bureau.

The industry hasn’t

grown steadily because farmers have “grown blindly” and then sought out

markets, said bureau president Kelly Gooding and Roy Oyama, a former bureau

president and current state membership chairman for Hawai’i Farm Bureau

Federation.

Farmers are taking a “licking” financially by following this

strategy, Oyama said. It would be to their benefit to find markets first and

grow crops based on market demands, he said.

“People grow the stuff to try

to find a market, and sometimes you get caught between a rock and a hard

place,” Gooding said.

Oyama said he might press the state Department of

Agriculture to help Kaua’i farmers find more markets.

Farmers will help the

industry become stronger by working together better, he added.

Some

agricultural co-ops on Kaua’i failed in the past because the farmers didn’t

understand how they worked. Oyama, whose family has been in diversified

agricultural farming for 80 years on Kaua’i, said he was part of an egg co-op

that folded because people had different ideas on how the co-op should be

operated.

“You hire a manager to market the product,” Oyama said. “But

what happened was that the farmers began to tell the manager how to do his

job.”

In general, other Kaua’i co-ops have been successful, Gooding said.

But he said co-ops statewide aren’t operated efficiently because of different

management philosophies.

Because farmers grow crops that sometimes don’t

make it to the market, they sell to a jobber—a middle man of sorts, who sells

in volume to a wholesaler, Oyama said. In turn, the farmer ends up with lower

prices for his produce.

This problem has arisen for papaya growers because

they sometimes grow varieties that don’t have long shelf lives and aren’t

competitive in the marketplace, Oyama said.

“They are mostly shipped off

to California, which is not necessarily a good market because the Kaua’i brand

is competing with papayas grown in other parts of Hawaii and those grown in

Mexico and elsewhere,” Oyama said.

The bunchy top virus also has dealt

island bananas growers a temporary setback, although farmers are working with

the Department of Agriculture to fight the disease. The virus has been found in

Kapahi, Kapa’a, Kilauea and Kalihiwai.

Kaua’i’s diversified agricultural

industry has problems, but they can be overcome, Oyama and Gooding

contend.

Putting the industry in order is akin to repairing a vehicle so

that it runs properly, Gooding said.

“There are little things you have to

tweak,” Gooding said. “It is like messing around with the carburetor of your

car. If it is not that, it is something else.”

The future looks bright,

Oyama and Gooding said, because:

* More prime agricultural lands are being

sold or leased by the remaining sugar companies and the state.

* The

amendment of a county agricultural tax bill that has provided tax breaks to

land owners who have dedicated their land for farming or ranching for profit

for 10 to 20 years. To maintain that tax status, some owners are leasing out

lands to farmers.

* Crops already have some markets on Kaua’i, throughout

the state and abroad.

* Future markets for Kaua’i-grown mangoes, avocados,

breadfruit and tropical fruits—look promising.

* New markets may open for

dried fruits or fruits that are blended into juices.

* There are more than

180 farmers, and their numbers may grow with the availability of more farmland.

Most farmers are part-time growers and operate farms ranging from a half acre

to 10 acres.

Help for the industry could be coming from other sources, as

well. U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawai’i) recently announced the Senate

Appropriations Committee approved $200,000 to enhance water supplies in

Hawai’i. The funds will be used by the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct

reconnaissance studies to determine the efficiency of water systems developed

and previously maintained by sugar cane plantations.

Inouye said these

plans are critical to transforming Hawaii’s agriculture industry from one based

on large-scale sugar and pineapple plantations to small-scale farms.

A

chief goal of the industry is to replace vegetable and fruits that are imported

to Kaua’i and are sold at island stores and supermarkets, Gooding said.

In

the produce they buy, stores seek consistent quality, consistent prices and

consistent delivery, Gooding said.

Kaua’i farmers may crack that market

one day because they are committed to producing high-quality produce, he

said.

“We think it can happen,” he said.

Staff writer Lester

Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and lchang@pulitzer.net

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