Big changes have occurred on Kauai that impact our quality of life, our health, our economy, and our future. Many of these changes and forces are from outside of Kauai and are increasingly impacting our community and our collective future.
Many residents are not aware of the important issues and the magnitude of the impacts because facts that have been kept from us are just beginning to be revealed.
These facts are being revealed in no small part because of grassroots community efforts now being focused on Bill 2491. Bill 2491 gives our community the important opportunity to learn these facts, have a collective dialog and control our own destiny.
The biggest change is that the relatively infrequent and low quantities of pesticides applied in production agriculture in the past has been replaced by extremely high frequency and quantities of pesticides used by the seed/chemical companies.
The key question I have wanted answered is this: How is pesticide use related to research different than the pesticide use in production ag? We have been told for years and at recent public hearings it’s just like other farmers. The real answer to me is practically inconceivable. Look at the difference.
Kauai Coffee uses pesticides while producing their ag product. They spray about eight times per year. Long periods of time go by between sprayings when there is no potential for neighbors to be impacted whether there are buffer zones or not.
So how often do seed/chemical companies spray while conducting ag research? Documents recently obtained through a federal court order confirm that Dupont Pioneer in Waimea has sprayed its multiple fields an average of 240 times per year! No, that’s not a typo.
It means that pesticides are being sprayed four to six times each week, week in and week out, all through the year, with potential exposure occurring almost ever day.
Production ag in the United States typically uses about one pound per acre of pesticides in a year. The highest use in the country is on tobacco fields in Kentucky and North Carolina, at up to two pounds per acre.
Dupont Pioneer in Waimea has used over eight pounds per acre per year. More that four times the heaviest use in production ag in the country. No one will explain, if production ag farmers need at the most two pounds to respond to pests, why Dupont Pioneer needs to apply four times as much in Waimea?
Other serious changes
Local kamaaina food producers have lost their land leases, their investments, and their businesses to seed/chemical companies that now use the same land for agriculture research that produces no product for Kauai.
The primary use of prime ag land on Kauai has transitioned from production use of ag land that is part of the commerce of our island (ag that produces a product and revenue that can be re-circulated on the island) to the research use of ag land that produces no product and thus little revenue that stays on the island.
The vast majority of plants grown here by the seed/chemical companies are destroyed and only their researchers use the seeds grown here. The seeds are not eaten or used by other farmers. They are experiments, not food.
Because there is no product for sale from ag research, the seed/chemical companies government has lost any GE tax revenues these land used to generate.
While state and local government lose GE and other revenue from the loss of ag production, local taxpayers are paying higher taxes to make up the difference, in effect subsidizing this transition of land use on Kauai.
Agriculture has a long and proud tradition on Kauai. We honor and celebrate the land in production along with the rural lifestyle and character.
We support agriculture. We accept the minor inconveniences and our laws protect farmers from inappropriate nuisance lawsuits by neighbors.
However, as we are finally getting access to information long withheld, something vitally important is becoming very clear. The agricultural research practices of the seed companies on Kauai are far different than agricultural production practices we have traditionally chosen to support.
Unfortunately, this discussion is just the tip of the iceberg.
There are other pressing issues to discuss including our state’s too little, too late response on this and other malama aina issues.
Our natural environment, particularly the reefs, is in a stressed condition from multiple sources, one of which is pesticide runoff.
Less than 20 years ago the entire coral system in the Florida Keys collapsed under similar circumstances. It devastated the local economy. This is serious.
Although I’m pleased the state has suddenly discovered the importance of these issues, their baby steps should not change the Kauai County Council’s efforts to fulfill our oath to protect the health and safety of our citizens.
Tim Bynum is a member of the Kauai County Council.