Hawaii Can Learn A Lot From Japan About Farming And Food Production

Civil Beat
By Ken Love –

As the longtime executive director of the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers association — and a longtime Hawaii farmer myself — I have spent decades traveling through the islands of Hawaii and many countries in Asia, meeting farmers, agricultural extension agents, researchers and policymakers.

What I have learned is this: We in Hawaii are at a point in our history where we could use some help, and there are all kinds of good ideas out there waiting for us, like nourishing fruits that are ripe and ready and waiting to be harvested.

Japan has much to offer us when it comes to agriculture. Its focus on farming and local production is not just a matter of pride — it’s ingrained, dating back to their Jomon period, which coincidently started at the same time as agriculture itself, about 12,000 years ago.

Just because we started later does not mean we have to lag behind.

When the first canoes were bringing settlers to Hawaii, the Japanese monk Kobo Dashi was bringing the first medical textbook home from China. That book explained how to use loquat as a medicinal. Today any of the shops in Honolulu’s Chinatown will have loquat extract and loquat leaf tea to help the lungs. I can testify that it works great to combat the effects of vog.

The Hawaiians who arrived in those canoes also came with an exceptional history of farming. The canoe plants they transported thrived in the islands under their care: niu, kalo, ulu, olena, ko, many others. For centuries, hundreds of thousands of people in Hawaii feasted on the bounty that the land gave them. Vast agricultural field systems flourished.

In the 19th century, monocropping of sugar became the agricultural norm in Hawaii. Monocropping of pineapple followed.

Now it’s all changing again. The vast Hawaiian field systems are a memory. So too are the sugar and pineapple plantations. Freighters bring us our meals from thousands of miles away.

When I say we need help and Japan can help us, I’m thinking of very specific things: learning how to better market our products, improving certain horticultural practices, putting the culture back in agriculture (something our Ulu Cooperative here in Kona is already excellent at).

And this: At the core of Japan’s agricultural success is respect for farmers and support of their work.

Given a history that is many thousands of years old — and that has seen plenty of war and famine — Japan is a country well aware of the value and importance of having a strong food production system.

For example, let’s say you’re a farmer in Japan and you need a greenhouse. Much of Japan’s produce is grown in greenhouses, which eliminates most problems with pests and bacteria and allows the farmer to better control the environment. (Japanese greenhouse farmers always get two crops of mangoes per year, something few farmers in Hawaii even attempt.)

Back to that greenhouse you need: The national government supports agricultural development by offering growers 50% of the cost of a new greenhouse. Another 20% of the cost comes from the prefectural government. The farmer just needs 30% to move forward, and greenhouse loans are loans that local banks are eager to make.

Japan Agriculture is a national cooperative that farmers rely on for many aspects of their operations. JA provides services including reduced cost fertilizer and supplies, which farmers can purchase from one of the thousands of JA co-op markets that exist in rural areas.

These co-op markets often offer classes in making value-added products from local farm crops, and they sell those products as well as produce fresh off the farm. Some JA shops will have farmers markets too.

In addition to the stores, the local JA office will usually have an affiliated gas station and often a branch of the national JA bank.

Bottom line: Japan Agriculture buys in quantity for a low price and sells to farmers at or just above cost.

Marketing one’s crop in Japan is often a family affair. Most JA stores and grocery stores will post flyers next to produce, showing a photo of the farming family, all smiling for the camera.

Japan’s post office system sells gifts by mail, and at any post office counter, you can order a case of persimmons with a picture of the family that harvested them.

In railway stations and other high traffic areas like street corners in Tokyo, JA and farmers will set up displays for a few days. Entire prefectures will often do this in different areas, just to feature their local crops. I can imagine Hawaii County setting up a display in Ala Moana Shopping Center, selling Big Island avocados.

All of these markets and the displays help to educate consumers about local farming. You can tell it’s working by visiting the stores: When local items are placed next to less expensive imported items, the local always sell first. People expect to pay more for locally grown at markets in Japan, unlike in Hawaii where we still have a flea-market mentality around locally grown crops.

Speaking of cost: We often hear how expensive everything is in Japan with tales of just one mango or one melon selling for $100. If fact, such high-end mangoes and melons are used solely for gifts and represent fewer than 1% of the country’s crop. Many costs in Japan are actually lower than they are in Hawaii.

I ask people in Hawaii what they imagine a grafted fruit tree would sell for in Japan. I love to hear the guesses: $150? $200? And up.

In fact, farmers in Japan can purchase a wide variety of citrus, persimmon and other fruit trees for, on average, $7.50 a tree. Yesterday I checked citrus trees at a big box store in Kona and the prices started at $50 and went to $199.

We at the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers association sell trees for $20. I know what it costs to produce and care for those trees and we have to charge $20 to make a tiny profit. Japan’s price of $7.50 is a concrete illustration of the country’s commitment to its farmers.

Japan is famous for its exquisite gardens and its tree pruning practices are excellent. Most of the country’s food-producing trees are kept low, about six feet, which helps them to weather typhoons, improves production and reduces the need for external labor and machines.

Fortunately, these pruning practices are now being employed by growers on Maui, Kauai and in Kona. Yoshimi Yonemoto, who ran the Japanese government’s tropical fruit tree research station, has spoken numerous times at the annual conference of the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers association. He has demonstrated better ways for us to manage our trees and facilitate harvesting.

In Hawaii, ignorance about proper harvesting is a major problem and the reason we have a reputation for poor-quality watery avocados. I would guess 70-plus% of those avocados would have been delicious if they had stayed on the trees until they reached maturity.

Japan has a small army of extension agents to help its farmers. These agents educate farmers in all kinds of areas like, for example, harvesting. Thanks to the extension agents, in Japan there is no question about when to harvest.

The country’s extension agents come from many institutions and companies: universities, the national government’s ministry of agriculture, prefectural governments, companies that produce large quantities of value-added products from local crops, JA, fruit parks and machino eki.

A machino eki is what was once referred to as a roadside oasis or stand — a place to stop for a rest or coffee and to shop for local produce and products.

A good example is the Tomiura Biwa Club. “Biwa” is Japanese for loquat. Today in Japan you can buy 3,000 items made from or featuring loquat. Yes, that includes a Hello Kitty doll holding a bunch of loquat! But there are literally thousands of cakes, jams, jellies, teas, everything you can think of, made from loquat.

Perhaps more importantly, the Biwa Club, which is four hours from Tokyo, buses in visitors on picking tours when the season is right, the ripening of loquat being considered one of the first signs of spring.

On weekends in the spring and summer, the area is bombarded. The club has a library for growers, meeting rooms and an extension agent to answer questions about growing. There are sales of local produce as well as displays of local art and handicrafts. The restaurant offers loquat-based curries, salads and, of course, ice cream.

In other machino ekis, there are kitchens that offer classes on making jams and jellies. These lessons are sponsored by the government and companies through public-private partnerships. We could set up machino eki across the islands.

For me, the most important undertaking that we should emulate in Hawaii is the Japanese Fruit Park. There are four or five now across Japan. The fruit parks are a one-stop shop for growers, visitors, consumers, school and senior tours. I usually reference Nagoya’s Togokuzan Fruit Park.

Here, in addition to fruit trees both in and out of greenhouses, there is a library, restaurant, museum, kids’ park, kitchen rental area, farmers market, seasonal fairs and numerous special events throughout the year.

Any park visitor can use the reference materials in the library. A wide range of items can be found, from childrens books to technical publications of national agriculture organizations.

The staff, either in the library reference room or out in the field, is more than happy to answer questions on pruning, irrigation, soil care, post-harvest care and to teach visitors how to use the crops they’ve purchased.

In 2007 The Kohala Center arranged for the Rocky Mountain Institute to do a study on Hawaii island. The fruit park concept rated in the top five for ideas to consider.

Though I have visited Japan hundreds of times in the last 40 years, spent many months studying and learning about its agricultural practices, and thought a great deal about how those practices could help farmers in Hawaii, I do recognize that there are, of course, differences between Hawaii and Japan. One of these is land.

Land acquisition has always been an issue in Japan as in Hawaii, but Japan, with its dwindling population, now faces a different set of issues than our islands.

As Japan’s economy expanded in the 1950s and the 1960s, children left rural areas for jobs in Tokyo and other large cities. Eventually the parents died, and children were left having to pay an exorbitant inheritance tax. It was sometimes easier just to give the land back to the prefecture than it was to pay the tax.

Some rural prefectures were left with many hundreds of small abandoned farms. Some of the prefectures decided to offer ownership of the land for free to anyone who would come and work it for five years. In a few cases, prefectures even paid a small salary to the new generation of farmers until they got established.

Now, with COVID-19 changing everyone’s lives, people in Japan’s cities are looking more seriously at returning to the countryside.

There is one last idea from Japan I’d like to share here, something we could do for our kupuna. It is modeled after a delightful tradition carried on by the Aichi-ken Experiment Station for seniors who live around Nagoya.

The Aichi-ken station grows a large number of fig trees, each one in its own milk crate. The trees are typically pruned so that each tree has five or six vertical branches, with each branch holding about 20 figs.

In the spring, these trees are delivered, for free, to any senior who would like to have one. The seniors can eat, give away or sell the figs, at which point the trees are picked up and moved back to the experiment station to weather in a greenhouse over the winter.

Next spring, after the trees are cared for and pruned so the figs will sprout again, the trees are delivered once more. It is so very wonderful to see the faces of elders enjoying the trees.

Help restaurants stay in business

Star Advertiser
Editorial –

As Honolulu tries for a second time to recover from COVID-19’s crushing impact on the kamaaina economy, restaurants are now reopening — as they did the first time — with tables set at least 6 feet apart and protective partitions in place for dining at 50% capacity.

However, under the city’s new four-tier recovery plan, there are more layers of pandemic-related rules. Tables will be limited to parties of five in which all must be from the same household; and diners must provide information that could be used for contact- tracing. Also, everyone must mask up, except when eating or drinking. No mask-free chitchat.

For the foreseeable future, such directives will change the dining-out vibe — and alter all businesses that have banked on a steady presence of on-site social gathering. Change in long-established commerce and activities can be hard to accept, but it is our sole path to simultaneously rebuilding Hawaii’s economy while fending off COVID-19 community spread.

It’s encouraging that the Hawaii Restaurant Association has expressed confidence that through stepped-up directives in the reopening plan, which took effect Thursday, restaurants will serve up “stronger evidence” that dining out can be a “relatively safe activity.”

But sadly, due to months of COVID-19 restrictions, according to one recent statewide count, nearly 50 restaurants have permanently closed. The association describes many of the remaining restaurants as in survival mode, bringing in only 50% to 65% of the sales they made prior to the pandemic; and without federal and state assistance they, too would be closed now.

Especially hard-hit are bars and nightclubs. Under the city’s tiered strategy, in which reopening gains depend on the number of daily virus cases reported and test positivity rate, the soonest these two high-risk business types could open is mid-December. Some may try to secure restaurant status by serving more food, but such a pivot can be difficult for an already cash-strapped operation.

In response to small business struggles, Honolulu Hale is rightly pouring a large portion of its federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocation into the city’s Small Business Relief and Recovery Fund (SBRRF). So far, some $60 million in aid has been distributed to more than 6,500 recipients on Oahu.

Currently, the fund is providing reimbursement grants of up to $10,000 to small businesses with commercial storefronts — those with 50 or fewer employees and less than $2 million in gross annual income. The money can be used to cover fixed costs like rent and utilities as well as other costs of operation and interruption, including COVID-19 signage, personal protective equipment and automation.

Starting Oct. 1, businesses and nonprofits with $2 million to $5 million in annual revenue may apply for reimbursement grants of up to $50,000.

The clamor for relief in our diverse business communities is sure to continue until the state’s tourism industry marks a significant upswing. So, city officials must continue to work in tandem with chambers of commerce and other groups to break down any language barriers impeding the SBRRF application process.

In addition, the city must continue to assist small-scale commercial fishing and farming operations through grants and programs such as Farm to Car and Boat to Car, which are connecting homegrown agriculture and aquaculture with local consumers; and in the case of Fish to Dish, connecting key elements of the local fishing industry with food-insecure households, through the Hawaii Foodbank.

Three things to watch as farm aid floodgates reopen

POLITICO Weekly Agriculture
By RYAN MCCRIMMON

WELCOME TO WEEKLY AGRICULTURE! We hope everyone enjoyed some football and fall weather this weekend. Today marks the start of another round of stimulus checks to farmers and ranchers, up to $14 billion in total, as Washington continues flooding the agriculture industry with record levels of taxpayer aid. So let’s step back and look at three major economic and political implications of what’s become a defining feature of federal farm policy in recent years:

Even before the new batch of payments, government spending was projected to account for more than a third of all farm income this year, driven by the historic coronavirus relief programs. But the rapid rise in subsidies precedes the pandemic: Agricultural aid has grown every year of the Trump administration, including a roughly 65 percent increase in two consecutive years — a trend that concerns some ag economists.

— If you look past the topline numbers, plenty of producers say the money hasn’t reached their corner of the sprawling farm industry. In response, the Agriculture Department expanded the stimulus program to new sectors — including growers of tobacco, winegrapes and certain wheat varieties — that weren’t included in the first round of aid.

— House Ag Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said there are “some good things” in the new program, but he still wanted USDA to deliver aid to ethanol producers, contract growers, certain textile mills and livestock farmers that were forced to euthanize animals when slaughterhouses shut down.

ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL, President Donald Trump continues touting the coronavirus relief and trade bailout payments as proof of his commitment to farmers and ranchers, who are some of his most loyal voters.

— “Any farmers in this group? Because you’ve got to love Trump. I gave you $28 billion dollars,” Trump said at a rally last week in Mosinee, Wis. “Did everybody get that money? You had a very good year. The farmers have had a very good year.”

Democratic nominee Joe Biden has tried to blunt Trump’s appeal to agriculture by highlighting the financial fallout from his tariff fight with China. For example, a Biden campaign ad earlier this year features an Iowa farmer blasting Trump’s trade bailout as an effort to “screw you over and pay you off with somebody else’s money.”

MEANWHILE ON CAPITOL HILL, debate over the farm rescue payments is spilling over into high-stakes negotiations over a stopgap spending bill to avert a government shutdown next week, a potential snag that we flagged for readers earlier this month.

ICYMI, the White House asked Congress to ensure that USDA has enough spending authority to keep farm payments flowing when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1. But Democrats aren’t eager to give Trump a “blank check to spread political favors,” especially when he keeps dangling the money in front of farmers at campaign rallies, as one Democratic aide told POLITICO’s Caitlin Emma and John Bresnahan.

The farm aid standoff, which also tangled up September spending talks last year, forced congressional leaders to miss their own deadline to release a continuing resolution on Friday. (They’re now aiming to publish the measure today.) Before the delay, there appeared to be a deal to include the White House request along with an extra $2 billion to help families with school-age children afford groceries.

Bottom line: As farm payments have blown past historic records, political debate over the aid programs has bubbled up into a hot-button topic on the campaign trail and in closed-door congressional negotiations. Those debates are now coming to a head, with nine days until the next shutdown deadline and just 43 days until the Nov. 3 elections, when several farm states will play an outsize role in picking the next president.

HAPPY MONDAY, SEPT. 21! We’re back with your weekly look-ahead. And speaking of looking ahead, your host looks forward to writing about Martian farms one day. Send tips to rmccrimmon@politico.com and @ryanmccrimmon, and follow us @Morning_Ag.

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Hemp Farmers Now Eligible For USDA Coronavirus Relief Program

Marijuana Moment
By Kyle Jaeger

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on Friday that it is expanding its coronavirus relief program for farmers—and this time around, hemp cultivators are eligible for benefits.

In May, USDA said it would be making $19 billion available for agriculture producers to assist them amid the pandemic. But it excluded hemp and several other crops, stating that they don’t qualify because they didn’t experience a five percent or greater price decline from January to April. Industry stakeholders contested that point, arguing that there’s insufficient data to establish that given how young the newly legal market is. They said they were suffering just like other sectors.

It seems the department got that message and chose to accommodate the industry. A new round of funding through USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) includes a payment category for “flat-rate crops” that lists hemp as eligible.

“Crops that either do not meet the 5-percent price decline trigger or do not have data available to calculate a price change will have payments calculated based on eligible 2020 acres multiplied by $15 per acre,” USDA said in a notice. “These crops include alfalfa, extra long staple (ELS) cotton, oats, peanuts, rice, hemp, millet, mustard, safflower, sesame, triticale, rapeseed, and several others.”

Jonathan Miller, general counsel at the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, told Marijuana Moment that the group is “thrilled” to see USDA take this step, though some stakeholders are saying that the calculation the department is using to determine benefits under the program “might not be as generous as for some other crops.”

“This is a very significant development for the industry,” he said. “We just want to be sure that our farmers are treated fairly just like other farmers.”

The office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has championed the industry and helped advance the crop’s legalization, highlighted the policy change.

In April, Congress approved a COVID-19 package that made hemp businesses eligible for federal disaster relief through the Small Business Administration (SBA).

For the past two years since hemp was federally legalized through the 2018 Farm Bill, USDA has been hard at work developing regulations and reaching out to the industry to ensure that the market has the resources to thrive.

This month, for example, it reopened a 30-day public comment period on its proposed rules for the crop in order to gain additional feedback on a number of provisions that stakeholders had expressed concern about. SBA recently asked USDA to extend that comment window. The department’s rule for hemp, when finalized, is set to take effect on October 31, 2021.

In July, two senators representing Oregon sent a letter to Perdue, expressing concern that hemp testing requirements that were temporarily lifted will be reinstated in the agency’s final rule. They made a series of requests for policy changes.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) called on USDA to delay the implementation of proposed hemp rules, citing concerns about certain restrictive policies the federal agency has put forward in the interim proposal.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) last month wrote to Perdue, similarly asking that USDA delay issuing final regulations for the crop until 2022 and allow states to continue operating under the 2014 Farm Bill hemp pilot program in the meantime.

As it stands, the earlier pilot program is set to expire on October 31. The senators aren’t alone in requesting an extension, as state agriculture departments and a major hemp industry group made a similar request to both Congress and USDA last month.

Perdue has said on several occasions that DEA influenced certain rules, adding that the narcotics agency wasn’t pleased with the overall legalization of hemp.

As all of this rulemaking continues, USDA has been systematically approving hemp plans from states and tribes. Utah is the latest state to have its proposal approved.

FARMERS MARKET COALITION: Webinar: Unique COVID Farmers Market Models / Thursday, September 3rd @ 6:30 am HST

FMC and Ecology Center have teamed up and are excited to present the webinar Thinking Inside the Box- Making Healthy Food Accessible with Curbside/Drive-Thru (Contactless) Models at Farmers’ Markets During COVID-19.

Join us on September 3 at 12:30 PM ET to learn from 4 passionate and innovative farmer market managers who have implemented drive-thru/curbside/box programs in their communities. They’ll be sharing their challenges, successes along with the logistics, safety, and administrative aspect of implementing a program like this.

Click here to read the full webinar description, presenter bios, and register!
Megan Fox
Executive Director
Mālama Kaua`i
(808) 828-0685 x12
www.malamakauai.org
Advocating, educating, and driving action towards a sustainable Kaua’i.