Drought is a farmer’s worst nightmare. But imagine the few plants that make it through the summer are then eaten by something other than your family or customers.
On top of a dry summer, the Molokai agriculture community is facing a deer problem – lack of water and food in their usual habitat has driven deer into the fields for nourishment at the farmer’s expense.
“The problem is there’s not a whole lot you can do about it,” said Rick Tamanaha, owner of Kaleikoa Farms in Ho`olehua. “They’ve actually stopped me from planting for 2010. They’ve shut me down.”
Tamanaha said he will be installing an electric fence to ward off the deer. This is one of many problems that come with farming that he prepares for.
“If it’s not deer it’s going to be something else,” he added. “You take the good years, and you [have] to take the bad years.”
The number of deer heading into farms and people’s gardens may be disturbing, but the problem isn’t overpopulation, according to a few hunters familiar with the west end. A contractor for the Molokai Ranch said at last count two years ago, there were 8,000 deer on the west end.
The dry summer has caused the worst deer pressure for many farmers in recent memory.
“All these years, we’ve never had a deer problem,” said Grant Schule, owner of Kumu Farms. His plan of attack: “We’re just kind of moving crops around…basically we’re running from them.”
While Kumu Farms was not affected financially, according to Schule, others haven’t been so lucky. Tamanaha said the damage has cut his income in half this year.
Joe Kennedy’s 25-acre farm has lost a lot of fruit trees after deer stripped the bark, as well as lack of water due to damaged irrigation lines.
“I’m not in a position to keep repairing and repairing, so I give up on some places,” he said.
Hunger is driving the deer to new lengths – the animals have jumped over an electric fence to get to the Molokai Community Farm. Alton Arakaki, one of the farm’s extension agents, said the damage has delayed their planting and some trial projects.
Hunting for Solutions
Farmers aren’t giving up so easily though – some have turned to hunting. Mel Chung, gunsmith and co-owner of Shop 2, said ammo sales have been up lately, as well as renewals and applications for hunting licenses and night permits.
There is no deer hunting season on private land, but permission is required from the owner, as well as an up-to-date license. Hunting is also allowed on state-owned land, such as the Kamakou Forest Preserve, but is limited to April through September. Night hunting requires a permit from the Department of Land and Natural Resources, which is available online or at Shop 2.
Ron Rapanot, president of the Molokai Hunting Association, said he has gotten calls from framers lately asking for help, which he appreciates – he said hunting is always about “safety first.” Arakaki and Kennedy both said they are considering hunting as an option.
But Rapanot added that hunting is not just a control option – the meat must be used.
There have been several reports of carcasses left on the side of roads and near people’s residence, usually with the “trophy” – the deer’s head – taken off and the meat left to rot. Rapanot stressed that his hunters always offer to trade and share the meat. If you hunt, he said, don’t leave the deer.
In the meantime, farmers are waiting for the rainy season to alleviate their worries.
“We try to plan enough to cover those kinds of things,” said Jamie Ronzello, specialty organic grower for Kumu Farms, “That’s the thing about agriculture; you can’t control [it].”
For hunting help, call Ron Rapanot at 567-6541.