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
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.
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
“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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
“We think it can happen,” he said.
Staff writer Lester
Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and firstname.lastname@example.org