POSTED: November 1, 2009
A survey distributed by the Maui County Farm Bureau at the recent Maui County Fair reveals that almost all Mauians think farming is important. And half believe it will expand, although the recent trend goes the other way.
But on two important issues that are controlled by state government, opinion was divided: keeping up inspections of imported goods to intercept agricultural pests and allocating stream water.
"It’s very clear that the people of Maui value and want agriculture here, but we don’t exist in a vacuum," said Warren Watanabe, executive director of the Maui County Farm Bureau.
About 800 survey forms were completed, and 95 percent of respondents said that agriculture is very important or extremely important, although one-third also think it will decline under present conditions.
According to the Department of Agriculture’s Statistics of Hawaii Agriculture for 2007 (the latest report), Maui County farms totaled 32,400 acres, a decline of 4,500 acres in five years. The value of crop sales was $154 million. Livestock and aquaculture added another $6 million.
When fairgoers were asked to choose the top three among five choices for agriculture’s major role, 30 percent checked "local production of ag products;" and 26 percent checked "increasing self-sufficiency." "Keeping Central Maui green" and "keeping development in check" each got 16 percent support. "Maintaining a rural lifestyle" trailed at 13 percent.
The state government is downsizing because of falling tax revenues, and one area being trimmed is inspection of farm products. The survey found 92 percent in favor of inspections, but only 14 percent said the state should pay for inspections.
About two in five said suppliers to the islands should pay, and should also pay for disposing of rejected shipments. But almost the same number said they would be willing to pay more for their food to cover inspections.
The state Department of Agriculture recently reported blocking 237 shipments (2,537 pounds) because of pests or disease. Imported foods found contaminated included mustard cabbage, pasilla peppers, California oranges, strawberries, bell peppers, parsley and radishes. Eight parcels of diseased flowers were destroyed.
Another issue is stream flow. Ditch systems divert water from East and West Maui streams for both farming and domestic use, but the state Commission on Water Resource Management is in the process of establishing minimum in-stream flow standards for four West Maui and 29 East Maui streams. Most of the water taken now is used for irrigation.
The survey asked what policy should guide the commission. The choices were "always choose certain uses over other uses"; "always balance all uses"; or "consider each situation case by case."
More than half of respondents said "balance all uses," about two in five said each case should stand on its own, and fewer than one in 10 said some uses should always be privileged.
"Agriculture connects all of us," Watanabe said. "The food we eat, the jobs we have, our beautiful environment. In order to have what we want, we as a community need to keep on working together, balance our diverse needs for various resources and agree on good solutions to some of our toughest challenges.
"If we can do that, Maui will have green acres for generations to come."