Hawaii Agriculture Posts

Nonprofit moves forward with lawsuit to protect Hawaiian honeycreeper

Star Advertiser
By Nina Wu –

The Center for Biological Diversity today filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to designate critical habitat and develop a recovery plan for the iiwi, a cherished forest bird in Hawaii.

The move comes five months after the national nonprofit filed a formal notice of intent to sue due to lack of progress. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for Hawaii.

“The beautiful iiwi needs our help and it needs it now,” said Maxx Phillips, the center’s Hawaii director and staff attorney, in a news release. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s foot-dragging is unacceptable. Without the protections provided by critical habitat and a valid recovery plan, iiwi will continue down a heartbreaking path towards extinction.”

Iiwi, or Drepani coccinea, are medium-sized honeycreepers with bright, red plumage, black wings and distinctive, curved bills used to drink nectar.

The iiwi was listed in 2017 as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act due to extensive threats from mosquito-borne diseases such as avian malaria, as well as loss of habitat due to rapid ohia death and climate change.

Once abundant across the state — from the coastal lowlands where they foraged for food to the high mountain forests where they nested — the iiwi today can only be found in a narrow band of forest on East Maui, and elevated windward slopes of Hawaii island, and on Kauai.

They are now gone from the islands of Lanai, Oahu, Molokai and West Maui, the center said, and the Kauai population is likely to go extinct within 30 years.

Under the act, the agency is required to designate critical habitat with its listing determination and develop a recovery plan for the bird — but has failed to do so, according to the suit.

Phillips said there are measures the USFWS could take right now — including the restoration of upland forests at higher elevations, fencing off of potential breeding areas, and eradication of ungulates such as pigs, which create breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

The USFWS, in a December letter to Phillips after receiving the notice of intent to sue, said development of a recovery plan for iiwi is underway under the leadership of its Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office, and that a draft should be available for public review in the Federal Register by October.

The USFWS said, however, that it could not offer a timeframe for designating a critical habitat for iiwi due to its “national workload within the limited budget Congress has set.” The agency already has a 5-year National Listing Workplan for 12-month petition findings and status reviews, and will need to prioritize its workload.

Among those priorities, the agency said, are the designation of critical habitat for 14 Hawaiian species, including the picture-wing fly, by Feb. 28, 2023 as a result of a settlement with the center following an earlier lawsuit.

The center says Hawaiian forest birds are in crisis, with 68% of Hawaii’s known endemic bird species have already gone extinct because of habitat loss, disease and invasive predators.

“The longer that the service drags their feet, the closer these species come to a tipping point of going extinct,” said Phillips. “Time is of the essence. Any delay is really inexcusable.”

Maui Land narrows loss while it awaits land sale

Star Advertiser –
By Andrew Gomes –

Maui Land & Pineapple Co. generated less revenue last year amid the coronavirus pandemic but reduced its bottom-line loss from 2019. –

The company, which developed Kapalua Resort and once farmed pineapple but now mainly leases former plantation lands to tenants, lost $2.6 million last year, compared with a $10.4 million loss the year before, according to an annual report released Tuesday.

Maui Land said disruptions to tourism on Maui because of COVID-19 hurt company revenue from real estate leases as well as a club membership program that contributed to revenue falling 25% to $7.5 million last year from $10 million the year before.

However, the company’s 2019 loss was bigger because of two extraordinary items: a contested $5 million tax refund allowance and a $3.6 million noncash charge for reducing the value of some real estate.

Last year Maui Land offset some of its leasing revenue decline with the sale of 5 acres of agricultural land for $600,000. The buyer, Maui County, plans to use the land to expand its Lahaina wastewater system. Maui Land also received $900,000 as returned cash collateral from an insurance program of dissolved timeshare joint-venture development firm Kapalua Bay Holdings.

Maui Land anticipated selling 46 acres at Kapalua Resort for $43.9 million last year, but the deal didn’t close as expected in September because of COVID-19 restrictions. The company said selling the property, which has long been planned for residential and commercial development, is now expected to happen in mid-August.

The Kapalua-based company with 17 employees also tried to improve its finances last year with a potentially forgivable $246,500 federal Paycheck Protection Program loan but decided to return the loan proceeds based on guidance from the U.S. Small Business Administration that intended for the program to help small businesses that lack significant access to capital.

Maui Land’s financial results last year included a $740,000 fourth-quarter loss on $2.1 million in revenue that compared with a 2019 fourth-quarter loss of $9.1 million on $2.5 million in revenue.

Shares of Maui Land stock on the New York Stock Exchange closed Tuesday at $11.73. Shares over the last 52 weeks have closed between $13.50 on March 4 and $8.92 on March 23.

Hawaii Bill Would Eliminate Agribusiness Development Group

US News and World Report

A bill in the Hawaii Legislature would disband the state’s Agribusiness Development Corporation and transfer its resources to the state Department of Agriculture.

The state’s House Finance Committee unanimously advanced the bill Thursday that would abolish the agency.

The state created the agency in 1994 to help convert former pineapple and sugar plantation land into economically viable farms that would produce a broad range of products. The agency owns and manages 23,000 acres (9,300 hectares) of land and irrigation systems, mostly on Kauai and Oahu. It also has a small property on Hawaii Island.

The state’s House Agriculture Committee had advanced the measure earlier with a 7-1 vote last month, Hawaii Public Radio reported.

A recent state audit concluded the agency was “ill-equipped and struggling” to effectively manage its lands and had done little to fill the economic void left by the decline of the state’s commercial pineapple and sugar producing sectors.

The audit said the agency allowed tenants to occupy properties without approved leases or other agreements and turned a blind eye to criminal activity on its lands. It also found the agency had inconsistent and incomplete record-keeping.

The audit recommended that the agency develop written policies for board oversight, property management and managing files and documents. It also said the agency should create an electronic database of the agency’s lands and create strategic plans to grow and export products from Hawaii.

Fletcher Parker, a farmer, said the agency’s water and land on Kauai have been mismanaged.

“The fact that we have between 85-90% of our food on the island imported from off island is baffling to me,” Parker said in written testimony. “The land needs to be managed properly and resources need to be used for feeding the people of Kauai and possibly the other islands as well.”

Jimmy Nakatani, the head of the corporation, said the agency has made some of the changes that were recommended in the state audit. He called the bill “drastic” and “unwarranted.”

Other opponents of the bill include the state Department of Agriculture, the Hawaii Farm Bureau and a farm co-op that manages land on Kauai land for the corporation.

State Department of Agriculture Director Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser said the corporation, known as ADC, could convert fallow, plantation-era farmland faster and more efficiently than her department could, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. She said long-term management of land and water assets would be better suited for her agency.

“The Department believes that the ADC continues to have an important role in the growth and development of diversified agriculture in Hawaii,” she said in written testimony.

USAJOBS Daily Saved Search Results for Agriculture jobs for 3/2/2021

Loan Technician
Department: Department of Agriculture –
Agency: Agriculture, Rural Development –
Number of Job Opportunities & Location(s): 1 vacancy – Hilo, Hawaii
Salary: $40,534.00 to $58,558.00 / PA
Series and Grade: GS-1101-6/7
Open Period: 2021-03-02 to 2021-03-08
Position Information: Permanent – Full-Time
Who May Apply: Career transition (CTAP, ICTAP, RPL), Open to the public

Some jobs listed here may no longer be available-the job may have been canceled or may have closed. Click the link for each job to see the full job announcement.

Farm development agency may be plowed under by Hawaii lawmakers

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Andrew Gomes,

A state agency with special powers to expand diversified agriculture could be nearing a brink of perhaps its biggest accomplishment in 27 years, or disbandment.

The Agribusiness Development Corp. hasn’t been a terribly active agency for most of its existence despite lofty expectations of lawmakers who created the entity in 1994 partly to improve infrastructure of closed sugar and pineapple plantations for new diversified farming endeavors.

This year the agency, which owns irrigation ditch systems on Oahu and Kauai along with 22, 535 acres of farmland mainly on the same islands, has come under fire at the Legislature following a searing performance audit published last month.

On Thursday the House Finance Committee unanimously passed House Bill 1271, which would abolish ADC and transfer its staff to the state Department of Agriculture with the exception of ADC boss Jimmy Nakatani, a former watercress farmer who once led the Department of Agriculture.

HB 1271 has elicited a bumper crop of testimony—197 pages submitted for a Feb. 17 hearing by the House Agriculture Committee, which advanced the measure in a 7-1 vote.

Most testifiers endorsed abolishing ADC, which can issue bonds to acquire land and invest in agricultural enterprises.

Support for the bill outweighed opposition by a 5-1 margin.

Many bill supporters argued that ADC has mismanaged its roughly 18, 000 acres on Kauai by largely leasing the land to seed corn companies, which employ genetic modification technology, instead of more food producers.

“The ADC with so much power and so much control over all this aina has failed, ” Josh Mori, a Kauai organic vegetable farmer, said in written testimony. “They have failed our communities by supporting the companies that have poisoned our waterways and poisoned our air.”

Some ADC critics also cited the audit and litigation over stormwater runoff on Kauai that ADC contends was due to shifting Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

Kauai farmer Fletcher Parker said water and land on the Garden Isle have been poisoned under ADC management.

“The fact that we have between 85 %-90 % of our food on the island imported from off island is baffling to me, ” Parker said in written testimony. “The land needs to be managed properly and resources need to be used for feeding the people of Kauai and possibly the other islands as well.”

Opponents of the bill include the Department of Agriculture, the Hawaii Farm Bureau and a farm co-op that manages the Kauai land for ADC.

Department of Agriculture Director Phyllis Shima ­bu ­kuro-Geiser said ADC can convert fallow plantation-era farmland faster and more effectively than her department but that long-term management of land and water assets would be better suited to her agency.

“The Department believes that the ADC continues to have an important role in the growth and development of diversified agriculture in Hawaii, ” she said in written testimony.

Umi Martin, a tropical fruit farmer leasing ADC land on Kauai, said in written testimony that abolishing ADC won’t result in better public farmland management or allow more farmers to use such land faster.

Martin, a Native Hawaiian born and raised on Kauai, said that after ADC received the Kauai lands in the early 2000s in the wake of Kekaha and Lihue sugar plantation closures, seed companies moved in because there was no demand from diversified farmers.

Martin added that ADC isn’t perfect, but he said the agency can serve the growing diversified farming community in emerging opportunities.

“Abolishing ADC will stop the momentum and we will find ourselves even more frustrated with the lack of progress, ” he said.

Some of this momentum began building between 2012 and 2018 when ADC acquired, at the direction of the Legislature, 3, 848 acres of Oahu farmland mostly once used for Del Monte and Dole pineapple production near Wahiawa.

Nakatani told the House Agriculture Committee at a special briefing Friday that ADC has been working to develop irrigation infrastructure, including wells and reservoirs along with roads and other things, to allow more diversified farming on the land.

A few farmers, including big local diversified farm operator Larry Jefts, use about half the land and have produced crops in recent years with limited water.

Nakatani said another 1, 200 acres should be ready this spring for farmers who can apply under a process that ranks applications based on criteria including business plans and experience.

Another ADC plan is to develop a crop-processing facility, research greenhouse, storage warehouse, office space, worker housing, farmers market and visitors center on 34 acres near Wahiawa to support diversified farm tenants.

ADC also is preparing 1, 500 acres on Kauai for diversified farm use in the next one to three years, Nakatani told the committee.

Nakatani acknowledged that ADC, which he has led since 2013, has operational issues brought into glaring light by the audit, though he disagreed with the report’s conclusion that ADC has done little to fill a void left by plantations.

ADC deficiencies cited in the 56-page report by state Auditor Les Kondo included a lack of statutorily required market research, no meaningful agribusiness plan, informal tenant arrangements, state procurement rule violations, records in disarray and poor board oversight.

“After almost 30 years, we found that ADC has done little—if anything—to facilitate the development of agricultural enter ­prises, ” the audit said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the necessity for a strong and diversified agriculture sector, one that could provide for much of the state’s food needs while producing crops for export. Unfortunately, thanks in part to ADC’s past inaction and its continued lack of direction, focus, and competence, this dream remains as elusive as it was nearly 30 years ago.”

Kondo’s report said Jefts has done site work benefiting ADC in return for rent credit without any paperwork, and that ADC ignored a car chop-shop operation established on the Wahiawa property before the agency’s acquisition.

The audit also said a separate financial audit was called off because ADC hasn’t kept financial records since its inception.

In a formal response to a draft of the audit, ADC didn’t dispute many issues, but said the audit reflects a rudimentary understanding of what it takes to expand commercial agriculture in Hawaii. ADC’s response did refute the auditor’s contention that ADC ignored criminal activity.

ADC said it has worked with law enforcement to root out the chop shops, chicken fighting, over 150 abandoned vehicles, the homeless and drug activities on its Wahiawa land.

Ken Nakamura, an ADC staff member, said at Friday’s briefing that criminals in the overgrown fields had heavy equipment to destroy ADC barriers and weapons to threaten eviction efforts.

“We were literally outgunned, ” he said. “It became so dangerous that even the law enforcement officers did not want to go into the area.”

Nakatani said carrying out ADC’s mission has been difficult with a lack of funding and a staff of 11, of which seven are dedicated to a 27-mile system of tunnels, pumps and ditches transporting water from Windward to Leeward Oahu that ADC received in 1999 as its initial enterprise.

“We talk about we want to move agriculture, but not much money is given to agriculture, ” he said.

Nakatani also said ADC will focus on carrying out audit recommendations.

“It’s not like we turn a blind eye to that, ” he said. “We take it seriously. … We’re under pressure to move agriculture, and we’re trying our best to move it.”

If the full House approves HB 1271, the bill would advance to the Senate where a bill is under consideration to have ADC lease at least half its land to local food producers by the beginning of next year.

House Committee Advances Bill to Dissolve the Agribusiness Development Corporation

Hawaii Public Radio
By Ku`uwehi Hiraishi –

Hawaiʻi legislators are one step closer to dissolving the state’s Agribusiness Development Corporation (ADC). The 27-year-old entity was initially created to develop economically viable farms to fill the void created by the closure of plantations. But a recent state audit found the ADC has done little to fill that void.

Hawaiʻi lawmakers established the Agribusiness Development Corporation in 1994 to convert the state’s agricultural infrastructure from plantation-style monocrop production to a more diversified agriculture industry.

Over the years, the ADC secured agreements for 2,000 acres of former plantation lands on Kauaʻi and Oʻahu with growers producing a variety of crops for local consumption. But a recent report by the state auditor found the ADC has done little to fill that void. It criticized the agency for a lack of oversight and in many cases non-existent recordkeeping.

House Bill 1271 would disband the ADC and transfer its resources including four staff and an estimated 20,000 acres of land to the state Department of Agriculture.

Jimmy Nakatani, head of the ADC, argues the agency has already made some changes recommended in the state audit and he says the bill is “drastic” and “unwarranted.”

But Koloa resident Jeri Di Pietro, President of Hawaiʻi SEED, says the failures of A-D-C have meant a lost opportunity for local farmers looking to develop their own agricultural business.

“I have come to know many people who want to farm on Kauaʻi. They want to grow healthy food and there is a whole workforce here on the West Side and on the South Shore,” says Di Pietro, “These people, if they were able to get onto the land, they would avoid having to commute into Līhuʻe and would have jobs there to be able to grow our local food for the island.”

The House Finance Committee unanimously approved House Bill 1271, which will now go before the full House for approval.

USDA Invests $42 Million in Distance Learning and Telemedicine Infrastructure to Improve Education and Health Outcome

U.S. Department Of Agriculture –

Investments Will Benefit 5 Million Rural Residents –

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced it is investing $42.3 million to help rural residents gain access to health care and educational opportunities (PDF, 255 KB). Rural areas are seeing higher infection and death rates related to COVID-19 due to several factors, including a much higher percentage of underlying conditions, difficulty accessing medical care, and lack of health insurance. The $42.3 million in awards includes $24 million provided through the CARES Act. In total, these investments will benefit 5 million rural residents.

“The coronavirus pandemic is a national emergency that requires a historic federal response. These investments by the Biden Administration will help millions of people living in rural places access health care and education opportunities that could change and save lives,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “USDA is helping rural America build back better using technology as a cornerstone to create more equitable communities. With health care and education increasingly moving to online platforms, the time is now to make historic investments in rural America to improve quality of life for decades to come.”

A recent report (PDF, 214 KB) by the Rural Policy Research Institute’s Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis found infection and death rates in rural America due to COVID-19 are 13.4 percent higher than in urban areas. A recent report from USDA’s Economic Research Service, USDA ERS – Rural Residents Appear to be More Vulnerable to Serious Infection or Death From Coronavirus COVID-19, underscored the challenges facing rural Americans amidst the COVID-19 pandemic with even greater detail. Due to a confluence of factors, including higher percentages of underlying conditions, lack of health insurance, and lower access to medical facilities/care than urban counterparts, ERS analysts found rural Americans are suffering more severe illness or death due to COVID-19.

USAJOBS Daily Saved Search Results for Agriculture jobs for 2/24/2021

Fish and Wildlife Administrator
Department: Department of the Interior –
Agency: Interior, US Fish and Wildlife Service –
Number of Job Opportunities & Location(s): 1 vacancy – Honolulu, Hawaii
Salary: $132,066.00 to $171,686.00 / PA
Series and Grade: GS-0480-15
Open Period: 2021-02-24 to 2021-03-09
Position Information: Permanent – Full-Time
Who May Apply: Career transition (CTAP, ICTAP, RPL), Open to the public

Fish and Wildlife Administrator
Department: Department of the Interior
Agency:Interior, US Fish and Wildlife Service
Number of Job Opportunities & Location(s): 1 vacancy – Honolulu, Hawaii
Salary: $132,066.00 to $171,686.00 / PA
Series and Grade: GS-0480-15
Open Period: 2021-02-24 to 2021-03-09
Position Information: Permanent – Full-Time
Who May Apply: Career transition (CTAP, ICTAP, RPL), Competitive service, Land & base management, Special authorities, Veterans

Some jobs listed here may no longer be available-the job may have been canceled or may have closed. Click the link for each job to see the full job announcement.

USAJOBS Daily Saved Search Results for Agriculture jobs for 2/23/2021

Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) Technician
Department: Department of Agriculture –
Agency: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service –
Number of Job Opportunities & Location(s): vacancies – Lanai City, Hawaii –
Salary: $32,385.60 to $42,099.20 / PH
Series and Grade: GS-0421-4
Open Period: 2021-02-23 to 2021-03-01
Position Information: – 28 Hours Per Week
Who May Apply: Career transition (CTAP, ICTAP, RPL), Open to the public

INTERDISCIPLINARY BIOLOGIST/ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEER/PHYSICAL SCIENTIST
Department: Department of the Navy
Agency:Naval Facilities Engineering Command
Number of Job Opportunities & Location(s): vacancies – Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
Salary: $112,275.00 to $145,955.00 / PA
Series and Grade: GS-0401/0819/1301-14
Open Period: 2021-02-23 to 2021-03-05
Position Information: Permanent – Full-Time
Who May Apply: Career transition (CTAP, ICTAP, RPL), Competitive service, Land & base management, Military spouses, Special authorities, Veterans

Some jobs listed here may no longer be available-the job may have been canceled or may have closed. Click the link for each job to see the full job announcement.