The Robinson family is asking the state Land Use Commission to designate 20,888 acres on west Kauai — nearly half of its holdings — as Important Ag Land.
All of the proposed IAL acreage is currently in production, with 18,700 acres in cattle and 2,188 acres in seed crops.
The LUC will consider the proposal at a Wednesday meeting on Kauai.
Pacific Business News reports that the Robinsons own 27,640 acres at Makaweli zoned either agricultural or urban, as well as 22,630 acres of conservation land. The family will decline the development rights and other incentives that the law offers in exchange for the ag land dedication.
Grove Farm and A&B have already secured the IAL designation for thousands of acres on Kauai, including Kauai Coffee and Mahaulepu.
Meanwhile, over on Maui, HC&S is moving into diversified ag on the 36,000-acre plantation where sugar will be phased out by the end of the year.
Though still in the R&D phase, sorghum is looking promising. It doesn't have a big pest problem, it can be used for animal feed, human food and fuel, and it appears to require far less water than sugar.
Overall, HC&S is looking at growing energy crops on perhaps 18,000 acres, as well as opening land to farmers who want to grow coffee and cacao. It's also looking to create an ag park, with first priority to the 645 HC&S workers.
Plans also call for raising cattle on 9,000 to 10,000 acres, including a possible partnership with local ranchers to create a 2,000-acre irrigated pasture project. This would give ranchers some protection from drought and also allow them to finish cattle in the Islands, rather than shipping them to the mainland. PBN reports that Ulupalakua Ranch is already engaged in a test project on the HC&S land.
In a thoughtful article, the Star-Advertiser's Andrew Gomes points out the many challenges in converting sugar to diversified ag, ranging from figuring out irrigation needs to dealing with a whole slew of new pests, including birds eating just-sown seeds. And then there's the whole processing side of things.
It's not so simple as the non-farmers like to portray. At least, not if you want to be successful.
Speaking of non-farmers, energy-tech entrepreneur Warren Doi, program manager for Energy Excelerator, a nonprofit venture capital entity that funds “cleantech startups,” is hatching a plan for Kauai ag land. In an email to a Kauai farmer, Doi wrote:
We've been working on a number of agriculture initiatives on Kauai with export potential. We have 5,000 acres on the westside (The Mana Plains), and we are driving out the seed companies to make room for local farmers.
Driving out the seed companies? That's an interesting position for a guy who is the Kauai rep for the Hawaii Technology Development Corp., a state agency that is charged, among other things, with doling out $2 million in grants to “manufacturing businesses in Hawaii for certain purchases and employee training purposes.”
And especially interesting, considering that one of the proposals to help Gov. Ige achieve his new-stated goal of doubling local food production by 2020 states:
HDOA and ADC are also looking to begin an Agricultural Business Incubator in Kekaha, Kauai for over 5,000 acres of agricultural lands to increase the State’s food production.
So Doi, with his biases, is apparently in charge of that.
But then, Doi, who lives on Oahu, cherishes “hanging out on the north shore of Kauai,” which may explain where he got the idea that the seed companies need to be “driven out” in order for other ag to go in.
Uh, no. There's plenty of land. What's lacking are farmers.
Yet Ige's food production plan makes just one reference to growing farmers:
The State will increase capital available to farmers by increasing the Agricultural Loan Program portfolio that will give increased capacity for HDOA to provide start-up capital to new farmers. HDOA will submit a request of five (5) million dollars per year for the new biennium budget.
HDOA is working closely with the livestock industry to revitalize the State’s dairy production in the startup of two (2) new dairy operations.
HDOA working with private partners will increase local egg production with the introduction of a one (1) million hen facility on Oahu.
HDOA and ADC are working with the livestock industry to develop slaughterhouse infrastructure to grow the State’s grass fed beef operations and develop 2 local feed mills to increase local feed production, lowering input costs for local farmers and increasing the State’s food security.
Can't wait to see what sort of opposition the antis throw up to those proposals — despite their cry for more local food. Which leads us to another plank in Ige's food platform:
The State will continue its advocacy in partnership with the Lieutenant Governor’s Office for a farm to school program for a second fiscal year (Session 2016) with an emphasis on increasing the procurement of locally grown commodities by government agencies. Pilot projects starting in early 2017 with the Kohala Complex followed by Upcountry Maui.
It's interesting to note that two of the groups heavily involved in the farm to school program — Kokua Foundation Hawaii and Kohala Center — are funded by philanthropists with an anti-GMO agenda, and in the case of the Kohala Center, run by anti-GMO activist Nancy Redfeather.
Some of the smaller players listed on the site —Grow Some Good, Sustainable Molokai, Oahu Farm to School Network, Food Corps Hawaii, Pacific Resources for Education & Learning — either link back to the Kohala Center or Malama Kauai, which is anti-GMO.
While it's great to give school kids access to healthy food and an awareness of gardening, it's troubling to see state money used to advance an initiative grounded in a false ideology. Kids should be taught critical thinking, not anti-GMO dogma.
And is it really appropriate to use state money to procure commodities grown by anti-GMO groups operating on grants, including some state money, which gives them an edge over local farmers who aren't similarly subsidized?