Study: pandemic led to planting

  • Contributed by the Haraguchi family

    The Haraguchi taro farm is still recovering from flooding last April. The family has continued to farm taro despite challenges posed by the devastating flood.

  • Jessica Else / The Garden Island file

    Kaua‘i Coffee’s Numila fields are seen under a bright, blue sky.

LIHU‘E — The amount of planted acreage on Kaua‘i increased over the past year, according to an updated study on land use in the state released by the state Department of Agriculture.

The Agriculture Land Use Baseline Study indicates that the trend continued statewide, with the overall acreage of planted crops increasing during the pandemic.

The newly-released study compiles agricultural land use data in 2020 for O‘ahu, Hawai‘i Island and Kaua‘i, and updates data from a 2015 baseline report.

Due to budget constraints, updated Maui figures are expected to be released in November 2021, at which time a statewide comparison may be accomplished. It should be noted that the severe impacts of COVID-19 on agriculture over the past year are not reflected in the 2020 report, as much of the data was collected prior to the pandemic.

“While the cumulative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on agriculture over the past year are not reflected in this report, it is encouraging to see that productive lands in agriculture were increasing over the past five years,” said Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser, chairperson of the state Board of Agriculture.

“The data is an indicator of growth through many diverse crops, and it emphasizes the importance of preserving and protecting agricultural lands for future cultivation and improving the state’s economic growth.”

Kaua‘i posted total agricultural acreage of 65,538, gaining 2,294 acres, an increase of 3.6%, over 2015.

Kaua‘i crops in particular gained more than 1,880 acres, or 8.8%, over 2015.

Of that increase, more than 950 acres was attributed to seed production, and 816 acres attributed to commercial forestry operations.

Banana, coffee, taro and tropical fruits also gained acreage on the island. However, diversified crops lost 53 acres, down 4.4% from 2015. Pasture lands continue to make up the majority of agricultural acreage — 65% — on Kaua‘i.

On O‘ahu, 2020 data show total agricultural acreage of 41,310 acres, an increase of 493 acres, up 1.2% compared to 2015. However, crop acreage rose 921 acres, or 4.1%, mostly driven by diversified agriculture, with an increase of 730 acres, or 7.4%.

Taro acreage also increased by 26 acres, or 50%, and tropical-fruit acreage increased by 33 acres, or 15%, compared to 2015.

The gains on O‘ahu were offset by losses of acreage in pasture lands, which decreased by a total of about 430 acres, mainly due to the creation of a solar project on former cattle pasture lands in Waipio. The study also tallied the loss of 360 acres of diversified-agricultural lands to a subdivision development alongside the H-2 freeway.

On Hawai‘i Island, total agricultural acreage was 614,552, a drop of 891 acres, or 0.14%, from 2015. During the past five years, the island has been challenged by natural disasters, including adverse weather and volcanic activity. In addition, island agriculture contended with invasive pests such as the coffee berry borer and spittle bug.

The 2018 eruption at Kilauea Volcano’s East Rift Zone covered about 1,000 acres of productive agricultural lands in Puna, which included diversified crops, horticulture, macadamia nut, papaya and tropical fruit farms.

Despite those losses, most of those crops gained acreage during the survey period, with diversified crops gaining 1,076 acres, up 33%, papaya gaining 640 acres, up 25%, and tropical fruits gaining 167 acres, up 5%.

Acreage in dairy production dropped about 1,000 acres due to the closure of Big Island Dairy in 2019. The survey did note the first return of sugar cultivation to the island, with 14 acres in Hawi part of a distillery operation.

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Jessica Else, editor, can be reached at 245-0457 or jelse@thegardenisland.com.

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