As a fourth-generation kamaaina growing up in rural west Kauai, I was immersed in our rich agricultural traditions. My father was (and still is) a paniolo for Makaweli Ranch. Like many of my friends and classmates, I grew up working in the loi, paying for my school supplies and field trips by selling kalo to the Makaweli and Kapaa poi mills.
Two months ago, I returned to Kauai as the station manager for Syngenta Hawaii in Kekaha after spending three years with Syngenta on the Mainland. I am thankful and proud to return home and be part of an organization that has been a contributing member of our local community for over 40 years, dedicated to sustainably and responsibly improving food security around the world.
Members of our Syngenta ohana are all deeply connected to the community and the land in personal ways. We send our children to Kauai schools, support community events, and are members of local churches and community groups. Kauai is our home and, as such, we take very seriously our kuleana toward Kauai’s natural environment.
In recent decades, our industry has become a stable foundation for agriculture on Kauai by maintaining important infrastructure, without which many smaller farming operations would not be viable and the future of agriculture on Kauai would be limited. For example, many of the loi in Waimea Valley are fed by the Menehune Ditch, whose waters now come from the irrigation system that is maintained by our agricultural association.
Recently, our industry has faced significant pressure and criticism from some individuals and groups in our community and from the Mainland. I understand and accept that as a large operation we have a responsibility to address our community’s concerns. However, at the same time, I am dismayed to experience the divisive nature of the current dialogue surrounding the operations of seed companies on Kauai.
The tensions were heightened again recently by Kauai Councilman Gary Hooser, who made several public appearances during a trip to Switzerland. Mr. Hooser’s claims concerning Syngenta’s operations on Kauai do not accurately reflect our activities or our commitment to being a responsible and contributing member of the community.
We want to set the record straight and ensure that our community has factual information on these issues. We offer the following clarifications:
Responsible use of pesticides: All farmers need some pesticides to support their crops. Syngenta uses pesticides registered by and according to EPA and Hawaii state regulations. The process by which the EPA assesses and approves these products has a significant safety factor built-in and is conservative. We strictly follow the product label requirements. We utilize no more — and oftentimes much less — than the amount required to control a pest problem. For example, in 2014 we used only .02 percent of the legally allowable amount of paraquat in our pest control efforts. Of the acreage that we leased, 99.8 percent was not treated with paraquat.
Syngenta participates in the Hawaii Department of Agriculture’s voluntary Good Neighbor Program (GNP), which recommends a buffer of 100 feet from any occupied building. Syngenta voluntarily takes land out of operation to ensure a minimum distance of 1,700 feet between our fields and Waimea Canyon Middle School. That distance is even greater for Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital and neighboring residences. Despite claims to the contrary, daily spraying on the active field does not occur.
The GNP also calls for pre-notification of restricted use pesticide application for schools and medical facilities within 1,000 feet of the application. Again, Syngenta exceeds this guideline by providing pre-application notices to WCMS and KVMH, which are 1,700 feet or more from the application area. Syngenta also includes homes near the school in our pre-notification, even though the GNP does not specify that residences be included. Finally, Syngenta goes beyond GNP guidelines by providing pre-notification of scheduled applications of general use pesticides and we ensure that a manager is present for all applications on the field nearest to Waimea.
Our goal is not just compliance with the law and the GNP, but to be a responsible and responsive member of our community.
Status of atrazine in europe: Even though countries in Europe currently do not use atrazine, the substance is not “banned.” In fact, EU countries use a triazine herbicide which is very similar to atrazine. After examining atrazine for the EU, the United Kingdom Scientific Committee on Plants found, “that the use of atrazine, consistent with good plant protection practice, will not have any harmful effects on human or animal health or any unacceptable effects on the environment.” See this site for more about atrazine www.SavingTheOasis.com.
We recognize that much of the concern regarding our operations stems from lack of common understanding. To correct this, we are fully involved with the Joint Fact Finding committee led by Peter Adler.
Further, I would like to personally invite community members who have questions about our work to simply ask us. Not through inflammatory statements in the media, but rather face-to-face. It bears repeating that we are your family, your friends and your neighbors. Our goal is to work together to create understanding and cooperation based on fact, mutual respect and constructive dialogue, rather than on confrontation based on fear from misinformation.
Joshua Uyehara is the station manager for Syngenta Hawaii LLC in Kekaha.