Emergency grants to farmers

LIHU‘E — The state Department of Agriculture has issued a second round of grants totaling an additional $200,000 under the COVID-19 Emergency Farmer Relief Program, to assist farmers, ranchers and growers who have experienced financial damage.

In this second round, 96 grants were issued ranging between $2,000 and $4,000 each, and will provide stop-gap financial relief to help agribusinesses during the COVID-19 crisis.

The funds may be used to help utilize an oversupply of agricultural products resulting from decreased demand due to closures of restaurants, schools and other businesses.

Last month, the DOA issued 106 grants totaling $270,000, of which $250,000 came from the state’s barrel tax fund (Agriculture Development and Food Security Special Fund) and made available through Gov. David Ige’s March 4 emergency proclamation and $20,000 from the Ulupono Foundation to assist hog farmers with feed costs.

Subsequently, DOA was able to identify additional barrel-tax funds slated for other projects and apply them to the emergency fund. The relief program has now awarded a total of about $470,000 through 202 grants.

Eighteen of those grants were given to Kaua‘i farmers; 59 were given out on Hawai‘i Island, 100 on O‘ahu,14 on Maui, seven on Moloka‘i and four on Lana‘i.

HDOA received and reviewed a total of 333 grant applications in late March. Priority was given to applicants who demonstrated significant financial damage caused or exacerbated specifically by the COVID-19 situation that poses a serious threat of permanently shutting down the applicant’s agricultural operations.

The second round of grants was issued to the next qualified applicants on the priority list. Both rounds of funding mainly focused on individual farmer grants of $2,000, with a few awards granted to nonprofit commodity and agricultural industry associations, ranging between $2,000 and $10,000.

The emergency relief program has been a priority for DOA and state Department of Accounting and General Services, which has fast-tracked the processing and printing of the grant checks.

DOA is also providing financial assistance through an Emergency Agricultural Loan Program, which was approved by the state Board of Agriculture on April 14. So far, the program has received more than 125 inquiries and about 30 applications for emergency loans.

The emergency-loan program offers low-interest loans to qualified farmers. Eligible farmers may apply for emergency loans of up to $150,000 at 3% interest.

Loans of $100,000 or less will not require credit denials from other financial institutions, which would normally be required for agricultural loans. The board also waived the three-year residency requirements normally required for agricultural loans. Micro loans of less than $25,000 are also available and involve less paperwork and offer swifter processing.

More info: hoda.hawaii.gov or 808-973-9460

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