By Howard Dicus
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Hawaii grows more corn for seed than for eating, and the seed industry is the new sugar for Hawaii, accounting for more than a third of all farmgate revenue in the islands.
All four of the nation’s largest seed manufacturers have substantial farming operations in Hawaii now, including farms on Molokai, Kauai, Oahu and Maui. The vast majority of seed produced is corn, driven in part by farmers growing corn for ethanol on the mainland, but diversification into other seeds is under way.
Using figures from 2009 for a report released Tuesday, the National Agriculture Statistics Service and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture reported that seed farms account for more than $222 million of the more than $627 million in statewide farmgate revenue.
Total revenue is up 4% from the year before, and also represents 37% more milk farm revenue as the dairy industry regroups on the Big Island, along with smaller rebounding in cattle operations and improved revenues for bananas, basil, sweet potatoes, head cabbage and other crops.
Drought, which has been a problem for local cattle operations since 2009, caused lower revenues that year in the flower and nursery industry, which had been the largest chunk of Hawaii diversified agriculture before the advent of the local seed industry.
Mac nut revenue plunged in 2009 but has rebounded since then, while coffee revenue at the farm level is variable from year to year. Drought has been an issue for all Big Island farmers, and the weekly crop weather report, also issued Tuesday, showed that even the heavy recent years did not prevent a further decline in the levels of the Aimee irrigation system.