Hirono co-introduces legislation to fund ag research

The Garden Island

WASHINGTON — There’s an estimated backlog of $11.5 billion in deferred maintenance and modernization needed at various agricultural-research facilities, including the University of Hawai‘i’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources in Manoa and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service facilities.

Earlier this week, U.S. Sens. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawai‘i), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Angus King (I-Maine), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) introduced the AG RESEARCH Act to address the multi-billion-dollar backlog.

The Augmenting Research and Educational Sites to Ensure Agriculture Remains Cutting-edge and Helpful Act would create competitive grants to be administered by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture to fund renovations at schools of agriculture and direct funds to the modernization of ARS facilities.

“Hawai‘i’s agricultural industry faces ongoing threats like climate change and invasive species,” said Hirono. “Now more than ever, we must make certain that schools like the University of Hawai‘i have the tools and resources to continue conducting cutting-edge research,” she said. “The AG RESEARCH Act provides overdue investments that will continue America’s global agricultural leadership.”

The AG RESEARCH Act would provide competitive grants to schools of agriculture for altering, modernizing, renovating or remodeling research facilities and equipment. The USDA secretary is directed to distribute the grants equitably based on geography, diversity and size of institutions. The bill would also allow the use of Commodity Credit Corporation funds for continued maintenance of ARS facilities, with priority given to the most-critical projects as indicated in the ARS Capital Investment Strategy.

“We deeply appreciate Sen. Hirono’s leadership to support critical agricultural research that addresses community health, food security and food safety,” said Nicholas Comerford, dean, UH CTAHR. “Such research is dependent on state-of-the-art facilities as well as the creativity of scientists. Support to modernize these facilities is tremendously needed and welcome.”

An initial report in 2015 estimated the deferred-maintenance backlog at schools of agriculture to be $8.4 billion, with a total replacement cost of $29 billion. The report warned that without significant federal investment, the need would continue to grow. An updated report published earlier this year found just that, with the need now totaling at least $11.5 billion, with a total replacement cost of $38.1 billion.

DLNR News Release: Apply Now For Wildland Mitigation And Landscape Scale Restoration Funding

The DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) is seeking applicants for two new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service competitive grant programs: wildland-urban interface and landscape scale restoration grants.

Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) grants provide funds to mitigate risk from wildland fire. Funds are awarded through a competitive process with emphasis on hazard fuel reduction, information and education, assessment and planning, and monitoring through community and landowner action.

DOFAW is looking for other non-federal landowners, agencies and organizations interested in collaborating on joint projects across land ownership and management boundaries for both programs.

Projects that DO NOT qualify include suppression capacity building, such as the purchase of fire department equipment. Applications must describe how the project connects with the goals of the Hawai’i Forest Action Plan and an existing Community Wildfire Protection Plan. See 2022 WUI Grant Criteria and Instructions for more information.

Landscape Scale Restoration (LSR) grants address priority landscapes and/or issues identified in the Hawai’i Forest Action Plan and encourage collaborative, science-based restoration projects that encompass a diversity of ownerships at a scale that can address the restoration objectives identified in the project.

Eligible activities following priorities outlined in the Hawaii Forest Action Plan include:

  1. Water Quality and Quantity
  2. Forest Health: Invasive Species, Insects, and Disease
  3. Wildfirev
  4. Urban and Community Forestry
  5. Climate Change and Sea Level Rise
  6. Conservation of Native Biodiversity
  7. Hunting, Nature-Based Recreation, and Tourism
  8. Forest Products and Carbon Sequestration
  9. S. Tropical Island State and Territorial Issues

Ineligible activities include but are not limited to purchasing of land, purchasing of technical equipment greater than $5,000 without prior approval by United States Forest Service (USFS), work on federal land, construction (e.g. new buildings or roads), and research-related activities.

See the FY 2022 LSR National Overview and Western Guidance document for more information.


WUI and LSR grant applications for 2021 will be accepted by DOFAW via email only until 12:00 PM (HST) September 30th, 2021.

Email WUI applications* to Michael Walker (State Fire Protection Forester) using subject header “WUI Request for Interest”

Email LSR applications* to Tanya Rubenstein (Cooperative Resource Management Forester) using subject header “LSR Request for Interest”

*All submitted responses must be on the appropriate application form, linked above, and must be editable (i.e. in fillable pdf or MS Word format only). Use English only, and provide all financial information in U.S. dollars. All applications are reviewed and prioritized by DOFAW who will load selected proposals into the relevant online system for submission for the competitive western region review/scoring process.

Non-federal landowners, agencies and organizations interested in applying to either grant program are encouraged to register their organization by September 5th, 2021 providing a contact name, address, phone number, and email address to the relevant DOFAW point of contact above, otherwise you will not receive notification of any changes or addendums.

# # #


Hawai’i Forest Action Plan: https://dlnr.hawaii.gov/forestry/info/fap/

Community Wildfire Protection Plan: https://dlnr.hawaii.gov/forestry/fire/community-risk-reduction/community-wildfire-protection-plans/

2022 WUI Grant Criteria and Instructions: https://www.westernforesters.org/sites/default/files/FY_2021%20WSFM%20WUI%20Grant%20Instructions%20to%20States_Web.pdf

FY 2022 LSR National Overview and Western Guidance:

RFI is posted at: https://hands.ehawaii.gov/hands/opportunities/opportunity-details/20443

Sweet potato protection! CTAHR team joins nationwide effort

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

CTAHR will use a new grant to study ‘Okinawan’ sweet potato

When a virus or virus-like agent infects a vegetatively propagated crop, the negative consequences can go far beyond a disappointing yield, appearance, taste and plant longevity. If the difficult-to-find disease goes undetected inside the propagation material, the problem could be passed on to a new farm, establish itself, and spread even further.

With a new grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, a group of University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) extension agents and researchers on Oʻahu, Kauaʻi, Maui and the Big Island have joined a national network’s sweet potato research group.

Since 2008, the National Clean Plant Network has brought together growers, scientists and government agencies with the shared goal of safeguarding clean plants and ensuring a sustainable source of disease-free, vegetative propagation materials (such as cuttings, slips, scionwood, etc.).

For their first project, Amjad Ahmad, Rosemary Gutierrez, Roshan Manandhar, Susan Miyasaka, Sharon Motomura-Wages and Jensen Uyeda, along with Jon Suzuki from the USDA’s Daniel K. Inouye U.S. Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo, will focus on ‘Okinawan’ sweet potato, the purple-fleshed variety that is a primary commercial cultivar in Hawaiʻi.

“During the first year, we hope to produce a total of 100 virus-tested ‘Okinawan’ plantlets in the tissue-culture laboratory of the Komohana Research and Extension Center, then distribute to extension agents across the state,” Miyasaka says.

The plan calls for the extension agents to multiply the clean material to produce 500 cuttings, and distribute them to growers. The agents will use either pot or hydroponic cultures under conditions that will minimize any re-introduction of disease, while Suzuki will test for major sweet potato viruses in order to ensure that the propagating materials are clean. If all goes well, by the second year of funding, the agents will be able to ramp up production to distribute 2,500 clean cuttings to growers.

Charter school receives $48,000 grant for farm-to-school program

Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Connections Public Charter School in Hilo will grow its farm-to-school programs with the help of federal grant.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently awarded $12 million in Farm to School grants to 176 recipients.

Connections Public Charter School and Community Based Education Support Services, the school’s board, received $48,253.

With the grant, Connections, whose main campus is in downtown Hilo, will develop learning and food production experiences for kindergarten through 12th-grade students on leased property located off Edita Street in Hilo’s Kaumana community.

“It is great to get that kind of support and recognition for the work we’ve been doing and the plans we have articulated,” said new Principal Romeo Garcia. “This gives us an opportunity to demonstrate what we can do with that support.”

Connections currently uses the Kaumana property to foster different class projects, usually involving upperclassmen. But with the grant, Garcia said he hopes to expand what the school can do on the land and involve students from every grade.

“Students, mostly juniors and seniors, this semester will continue foundational work with the gardens and keep on expanding on the land,” he said. “The ultimate goal is to have all grades up here with younger kids starting class gardens. Teachers will also be able to have their own class projects up here as much as possible.”

Although school is not in session, teachers and classes currently are running a number of projects, including experiments with hydroponics, growing plants in a nutrient solution rather than in soil, and catching beetles that have been perpetrating rapid ohia death.

“As a school, we’ve always been focused on project-based learning. Anyone can learn theory, but greater, long-lasting learning comes from applying knowledge,” Garcia said. “We’re focused on making sure information students are getting is relevant to their lives.”

Connections has designed career and technical courses based around the property, such as land management and planning, horticulture, and animal husbandry, he said. Students also will have opportunities to use different methods for growing food, to work with the horse and goats on the property, and learn land management.

“There are so many parts of farming that can be learned,” Garcia said. “There may be students who find they are naturally inclined to work outdoors and others may decide that’s not the route they want to take.”

Since the grant is for farm-to-school programs, Connections will be growing food that can be used in the school’s kitchen. Last week, property manager Danny McDaniel brought dozens of large eggplants down to the school that were grown on the Kaumana property.

“We want students to have that moment of pride and achievement after growing something that can be eaten,” Garcia said. “With the grant, we’ll be able to involve more students and show them that they can grow things here that we can use right away in our kitchen at school.”

Students also will have more chances learn about the history of the land and “canoe plants,” which were cultivated in ancient Hawaii.

“We have always taught students about how Hawaii used to be self-sustaining and now in the modern era, we have to import nearly everything,” Garcia said. “When COVID hit, things closed down and there was a fear that we wouldn’t get what we need.

“We want to teach students that when this happens again, instead of jumping into panic mode, we have processes and ways of living off the land.”

The State Does A Lot To Help Farmers In Hawaii. But It’s Not Enough

By Jessica Terrell –

Farmers need better technology, data and transportation subsidies if Hawaii’s agricultural industry is going to grow substantially in the coming decades.

When Max Bowman graduated from college in 2008, he struggled to find a job that would let him move back home to the Big Island. It was the midst of the Great Recession, affordable housing was scarce, and there weren’t many openings that made use of his English degree.

So Bowman decided to do something unusual for his generation of workers in Hawaii: He partnered with his brother and started a farm.

Hawaii GrownBowman got a lot of help from the state in getting ‘Ano‘ano Farms up and running.

The brothers started planting leafy greens on a five-acre plot of state land leased through the Hamakua Ag Cooperative. They got a loan from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture to help with equipment and operating costs. The DOA came through with a second loan seven years later, when Bowman and his brother moved their operation to a much larger plot on the other side of the island.

“The story of our farm has a lot of connection to HDOA,” Bowman said.

Farmers and agriculture advocates say the state does a lot to keep farming alive in Hawaii — from battling pests to training farmers, researching new crops that can be brought to market, and providing loans when banks might not be willing to.

But there’s so much more that needs to be done.

Agriculture makes up less than 1% of the state’s economy. The real value of what Hawaii farms produce has plunged a whopping 72.9% since 1980, according to economists at the University of Hawaii.

It’s going to take a lot more farmers like Bowman — and big investments in new technology, infrastructure, cheaper interisland transportation, better data gathering and more — to reduce the amount of food Hawaii imports and make agriculture a significant contributor to the state economy once again.

And even though Bowman could be viewed as a success story for what young farmers can accomplish with a little help, the future of ‘Ano‘ano Farms is anything but certain. Rising shipping costs and restaurant closures during the pandemic have hit Bowman’s operation hard.

“There are just a number of challenges that are specific to agriculture in Hawaii that we face every day,” Bowman said.

How The State Helps

Hawaii is not an easy place to make a living farming.

Land is hard to come by. So is water. There’s a lot of fallow farmland from Hawaii’s defunct sugar and pineapple plantations, but much of it lacks critical infrastructure that farmers need to grow new crops. Housing for farm workers is in short supply. Transportation is expensive and there are a number of challenges with getting products to market.

And then there are pests. Hawaii’s climate makes it the perfect breeding ground for a number of insects that can decimate crops.

The state tries to lend a hand with many of these challenges.

The bulk of day-to-day state support for farmers in Hawaii comes through the Department of Agriculture and the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.

The agriculture department plays an important role in regulating food production in Hawaii, but it also does a lot of marketing for farmers and ranchers, says Brian Miyamoto, executive director of the Hawaii Farm Bureau.

A lot of the DOA’s energy, though, is spent battling threats to crops. The department budgeted nearly $16 million last year on mitigating pests like the coffee borer beetle.

The department also gave out about $4.6 million in loans to farmers in 2020. The DOA’s lending program can be a lifeline to farmers who have been rejected by at least two banks, says DOA Chair Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser.

The University of Hawaii’s CTAHR works closely with the DOA on research, which is often funded by state or federal agencies through the DOA.

Some of that research is focused on short-term problems — new pests, helping farmers with struggling crops — but the university also plays an important role in providing long-term support for agricultural industries, says Nicholas Comerford, dean of CTAHR.

Take coffee — one of the state’s most successful agricultural industries. The university hasn’t been able to completely reverse the decline of coffee in Hawaii — production peaked in the 1950s — but it has helped keep the industry viable through decades of sustained research, Comerford says. It helped facilitate a statewide coffee growers association, assisted with mechanical planting and harvesting, conducted research into new coffee varieties and pest mitigation.

University employees known as extension agents act as a bridge between researchers and farmers. They can help farmers figure out new crops to grow, work to resolve challenges with soil or pests and figure out why some crops aren’t thriving.

But farmers say they see fewer extension agents out in the field these days. And CTAHR is facing steep budget cuts. The department lost 60 positions — 20% of its staff — this year.

“The pandemic has provided a difficult situation for us,” Comerford said.

But Comerford says the cuts are also an opportunity for CTAHR to figure out how to best allocate its resources and reexamine what it is doing to support agriculture.

Comerford and his staff are working with a consultant on a 10-year plan for the program. What do farmers need moving forward and how will CTAHR help with that?

“I think we’re at a stage where growth is really possible, where it hasn’t been possible before,” Comerford said.

Doing Better Moving Forward

The state needs to take a hard look at all its efforts to help farmers and bolster agriculture, says University of Hawaii economist Sumner La Croix.

And La Croix isn’t just talking about the Agribusiness Development Corp. — though he has few positive words for that state agency, which was created in 1994 to help the industry find a path forward during the collapse of Big Sugar.

The agricultural sector as a whole is becoming smaller, which doesn’t speak well for the efforts to grow it.

One big challenge, La Croix said, is that there isn’t much data about what crops are being grown in Hawaii. The agricultural department used to keep much more robust statistics, but much of that work was dismantled during the Great Recession.

“We might as well be dismantling the automatic pilot on a Tesla as we drive down the highway,” La Croix said. “I mean, we don’t really know where we’re going.”

The agriculture department isn’t going to be able to resume the level of market analysis and data gathering that it conducted a decade ago, says DOA Chair Shimabukuro-Geiser.

But the agency did make some new hires last year and has been collaborating with the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service to get more data.

Last year, it was able to analyze the production value of the coffee industry and some other specialty crops so those farmers could qualify for a federal coronavirus assistance program.

But farmers say they need more information. About what is being grown in Hawaii. About what people are charging for those crops.

“You know, we set these goals like double food production,” says Miyamoto of the Hawaii Farm Bureau, referencing Gov. David Ige’s call for the state to double local food production by 2030. “That’s great because it gives us something to reach for. But as for the double … double from what?”

There’s a lot of room for the state to provide more services to farmers, La Croix said.

But that needs to start with the state taking a hard look at where and how the agricultural industry can expand — and then helping in a more strategic manner.

The state could be useful in addressing challenges with water access and general agricultural infrastructure, La Croix said.

It could probably also do more to promote crops, identify new crops and provide assistance to small farmers, La Croix said.

And farmers need help getting access to better technology, Comerford said.

Hawaii’s farms can make better use of limited land with controlled environments like shade houses — a structure to help protect plants from excessive heat or light. They need support using nanotechnology to control diseases. And they could use better access to the kinds of equipment that farms in Japan use on smaller plots of land. Federal environmental regulations make it difficult to import Japanese equipment, something the state could help with by providing money to bring in sample equipment to be tested by regulators.

Lawmakers gave CTAHR $2 million last year for a pilot project to see what the university could do to increase production in agriculture, Comerford said. So CTAHR put out a call for proposals to farmers across the state. It got more than 40 responses from farmers with suggestions for farm-specific obstacles that, if addressed, could help increase production.

“What it tells you is that there are obstacles to agricultural production in this state that can be taken care of with a small investment,” Comerford said.

Before you go

$5M agricultural grants program necessary for Oahu farmers

By Mark Ladao –

The City Council has appropriated $5 million in the city’s operating budget meant to increase local food production, and it’s a much-needed source of funding for farmers.

Earlier this month the City Council approved its $2.9 billion operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year and set aside $5 million for an agricultural grants program for Oahu farmers.

The funding will come from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

Initially only $1 million was appropriated for the program, but the amount jumped to $5 million at the urging of Councilwoman Esther Kia‘aina.

Kia‘aina took inspiration from a $2.5 million agricultural grants program in Maui County that awarded as much as $25,000 to more than 100 farmers who were ready to expand and increase production.

She said local farmers — there are about 930 of them on Oahu, according to a 2017 count by the U.S. Department of Agriculture — need the money to pay for equipment, land and water among a long list of other expenses, and said the city hasn’t done much to help them.

“I’ve been very concerned about the availability of funding for our farming community,” Kia‘aina said. “If we, as political leaders, keep on talking about economic diversification and food security and … the importance of agriculture, what are we doing beyond talking about it?”

The rollout of the program, to be administered by the city’s Office of Economic Revitalization, is still underway. One of the decisions to be made is whether the awards will be up to $25,000, as was the case for Maui County, or if Oahu farmers could be awarded up to $50,000.

Food Security and Sustainability Program Manager Dexter Kishida said the city will have a clearer picture of what the program will look like in mid-July, but the funding is in part supposed to help the city and state become more food resilient and less dependent on food imports.

The state currently brings in as much as 90% of its food.

Experts have said that the $5 million intended to go directly to growers will boost local food production.

“I can go from land to water, labor, transportation, invasive species, food safety — tons of different issues and ways that this grant can help. It really depends on the farmer,” said Brian Miyamoto, executive director of the Hawaii Farm Bureau.

Many agricultural operations are ready to expand and contribute, directly or indirectly, to increase local food production while also providing the city and state with a non-tourism revenue source — another reason stakeholders want to invest in local agriculture.

A recent state-level $1.5 million agricultural grants program, administered by the state Department of Agriculture and the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, also meant to increase local production and awarded six operations $250,000 each for their projects.

But “they probably received over two or three hundred proposals (from) people who were ready to expand their operations,” according to Saleh Azizi, a farmer and community development coordinator at Kahumana Organic Farms. “There’s tons of people who need funding.”

AgHui, a group of agriculture stakeholders, also has identified nearly 120 “ready to grow” agriculture projects in the state.

Of those, 43 are on Oahu, and the entities involved are asking for a total of $31.3 million in funding. Together the projects could net the state an estimated $36.2 million in additional annual revenue.

Many of those projects, however, appear to be beyond the scope of the $5 million grants program, but they illustrate the funding needs for local agricultural operations.

One indirect part of local food production that’s gained prominence, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, has been the role of food hubs, which have become a priority for experts.

While Kia‘aina and Kishida said they are not targets for the grant program, food hubs helped coordinate smaller farmers — 76% of Oahu farms are smaller than 10 acres, and 91% are smaller than 50 acres; and handled the distribution, packaging and marketing of farm products, allowing farmers to focus on farming.

“Instead of a farmer buying a 20- or 40-foot refrigerated container, which is anywhere from $5,000-$25,000, they could pick (vegetables) … and then they could sell it to the food hub,” said Vincent Kimura, founder and CEO of Smart Yields. “And the food hub could then deliver it to farmers markets, CSAs (community-supported agriculture), restaurants and other businesses or … ‘value-add’ it, which is to puree it, dehydrate it, cook it.”

Azizi, who earned a doctorate at UH Manoa’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning, authored an article in March showing that the sales of 11 food hubs from around the state jumped nearly 200% from before March 2020 and after June 2020.

The article found that the annual revenue for the food hubs was $3.3 million prior to the pandemic and $9.8 million afterward, and “some hubs increased as much as ten times in sales, hiring, and purchases.”

Even though the biggest buyers of local produce, including hotels and restaurants, shut down during the coronavirus pandemic, food hubs helped farmers pivot to selling directly to consumers.

The hope for stakeholders is that the city’s $5 million grants program leads to more consistent funding for local agriculture operations.

University of Hawaii breaks ground on food entrepreneurship facility

Pacific Business News
By Janis L. Magin

The University of Hawaii Community Colleges broke ground this week and plans to start construction in July on the Wahiawa Product Development Center in Central Oahu.

The $12 million project will turn a metal warehouse at 100 California Ave. into a value-added product development center where students from Leeward Community College can learn entrepreneurship skills while developing value-added food products.

Students will be able to develop products such as baked goods, pickled products, ice creams and juices, which will help local farmers utilize off-grade produce as ingredients, minimizing food waste.

“The Wahiawa Product Development Center will be instrumental in supporting the diversification of our local economy by adding value to Hawaii’s agricultural and food sector industries,” UH Community Colleges Vice President Erika Lacro said in a statement. “It will take the knowledge, creativity, innovation and uniqueness Hawaii offers to the next level, creating a robust workforce pipeline and providing the tools and skills for local farmers and entrepreneurs to take their value-added food products to market and beyond. Bringing this to the heart of Oahu achieves a critical milestone for our state in food security and sustainability.”

The state Department of Agriculture’s Agribusiness Development Corp. bought the property from Tamura’s in November 2013 for $4.29 million, and UH launched plans for the center in late 2019 with the publication of a draft environmental assessment. Ushijima Architects is designing the project.

“Products that are made-in-Hawaii are highly desired worldwide and we have a huge opportunity with the WPDC to capitalize on that global demand. Value-added entrepreneurship is critical for economic recovery as we look to strengthen the agricultural industry and diversify our economy to be less reliant on tourism,” state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz said in a statement. “Wahiawa welcomes this community investment and looks forward to working with the University of Hawaii in the years to come.”

6 Hawaii businesses awarded $250K each to ramp up agricultural production

Star Advertiser

Six agricultural businesses have each been awarded $250,000 through an initiative under state Department of Agriculture to quickly increase local agricultural production.

The DOA, in collaboration with the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, was provided $1.5 million from the state Legislature last year for the Grow Hawaii Agriculture Initiative 2021. The goal of the program is to allow six chosen businesses to ramp up their agricultural production.

“The program was impressed with the quality of the 45 proposals it received from diverse agricultural businesses,” said Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser, chairwoman of the Board of Agriculture, in a statement. “The proposals were awarded to businesses with proven track records of success and that have demonstrated the ability to significantly increase agricultural production and expand markets for Hawaii-grown commodities.”

Three of the awarded businesses — Agrefab LLC, SK Natural Farms LLC and Zhao Produce Inc. — are based on Oahu. Kawamata Farms is based out of Hawaii County, and Malama Kauai is on Kauai. Hawaiian Golden Farm is on Oahu and Kauai.

The proposals for the six $250,000 awards varied.

Agrefab will use its money to “expand farm operations” and scale up its agricultural drying and juicy facility, while Kawamata Farms plans on expanding its hydroponic greenhouse operation to produce Roma tomatoes.

Malama Kauai will use its award to expand its Moloaa AINA Center food hub to provide processing facilities and aggregation and distribution services for more than 100 Kauai farmers, ranchers and food producers.

SK Natural Farms will “establish a small animal harvest unit” for hog farmers to increase local pork production and address supply chain bottlenecks.

Hawaiian Golden Farm has plans to expand its acreage and automate farming operations while creating value-added products to be sold locally and exported elsewhere. And Zhao Produce will expand its Thai and Italian basil harvest and also create value-added products both for local use and export.

Usda Approves Drought Counties for Emergency Loans

Successful Farming
By Chuck Abbott –

In a two-day burst, the USDA designated 372 counties, roughly one of every seven counties in the country, from Texas and Kansas to California and Hawaii, as natural disaster areas due to persistent drought. At the same time, Gov. Gavin Newsom expanded California’s drought emergency to 41 counties, including parts of the agricultural Central Valley.

More than 46% of the country, mostly in the West, is in drought – an unusually large portion, according to USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey. “There have been only four times in the history of the Drought Monitor that we have seen more than 40% U.S. drought coverage as we come into early May,” Rippey told Iowa radio station KMA.

The natural disaster designations make farmers and ranchers eligible for USDA emergency loans, for needs such as replacement of equipment and livestock or financial reorganization. Almost every county in Arizona, Colorado, California, New Mexico, Nevada, and Wyoming was declared a primary disaster area by USDA. Counties in six other states also were declared primary disaster areas. Producers in adjoining counties also are eligible.

To qualify for an emergency loan, producers generally must suffer crop losses of at least 30% or a loss of livestock or other property, according to a USDA fact sheet. Borrowers usually are required to buy crop insurance. The maximum loan is $500,000.

About 30% of California’s population is covered by the drought emergency proclamation, reported the Los Angeles Times. Drought is expected to worsen the fire season, reduce irrigation supplies for farmers, and create risk for fish and wildlife habitat. Southern California was largely excluded from the proclamation.

“With the reality of climate change abundantly clear in California, we’re taking urgent action to address acute water supply shortfalls in Northern and Central California while also building our water resilience to safeguard communities in the decades ahead,” said Newsom, who asked Californians to cut down on water use.