Fighting farm theft and vandalism is getting a closer look by state officials in the wake of high-profile cases.
Tougher penalties, rural neighborhood watch and product tracking from field to vendor are among the ideas to combat a growing and troublesome trend.
Whether it’s theft of produce or vandalism on a massive scale, agricultural crime is becoming center on the state’s radar.
“It was the vandalism that really led to all of the interest, because we’ve have three incidents that we know of, so it’s kind of building,” said State Agriculture Director Russell Kokubun.
The crimes range from brazen papaya crop destruction on Oahu and the Big Island, to pineapple theft on Maui.
“We’ve had probably one or two pickups a day stolen out of 1350 acres, that’s a lot,” says Doug MacCluer of Haliimaile Pineapple Co.
Victims say it seems like it’s getting worse, theft with the economy in a lull, and then there’s the vandals
“The rumors that have come to my ears are maybe there’s an anti-GMO kind of sentiment running through this, but there have been other things about feuding between farmers,” Kokubun says.
The Department of Agriculture is looking at an ag crime prevention program to help stem the tide.
“I think you have to strike while the iron is hot,” Kokubun says.
The department director has already met with the Attorney General looking into what tools are available now to combat the problem, and what might need to change — like stiffer penalties
“You reach a certain thresh hold in terms of quantifiable damage, then it does go to a higher penalty, but right now the way it is on the books — at least the way the attorney general tells me, it’s just a petty misdemeanor,” Kokubun says.
While possible new legislation is considered, farm and ranch watch groups along the lines of neighborhood watch have formed in areas like Waimanalo and Kunia. Farmers market and other vendors are being encouraged to ask where a product came from before accepting it wholesale
“We need to have some kind of traceability for product, and I think that will lend better credence to where’d you get this or why are you selling this,” Kokubun says.
The Department of Agriculture wants to hear from victims or anyone with tips. For more information go to http://hawaii.gov/hdoa.