Councilman Don Couch of Maui, representing the South Maui seat, talked with Joe Kent to discuss agriculture on Maui as part of the Grassroot Institute with Dr. Keli’i Akina, a radio show on KAOI 1110AM Maui and KKNE 940AM Oahu.
“HC&S, the biggest farmer in the state, is closing down their farming operations,” began Don, “Already it is so expensive to do agriculture in the state of Hawaii because it costs a lot to ship in what we call inputs — oil for your tractor, fertilizer, or [anything else] that has to be shipped here… it’s cheaper to buy food from Central America and have it shipped here, and that is a huge issue.”
A large part of the reason that agriculture is so expensive is the regulation — regulation which is often meant to help farmers. “There was a measure that came through the Maui county council that wanted to basically tell farmers that if you really want to farm, you have to dedicate your land to farming for up to 20 years,” explained Don, “The reason why that was happening was because we have these… fake farms where people buy agricultural land, two acres, build a mega mansion house, and throw a horse on the lot [in order to avoid paying higher taxes].”
Don explained that the intent of the BF-70 measure was to go after the gentleman farmers, otherwise known as ‘fake farmers’. Unfortunately, this bill would have negatively impacted the few farmers left on Maui. “The bill was so strict it said, you’re gonna farm whatever you say you’re gonna farm, and you can’t change it without going through a committee… and if you stop farming within that 20 years, you had to pay all of the back taxes.” The proposal was defeated in March.
Currently, the Community Organic Farmland Initiative is causing some controversy. If the proposal passes, “the county must condemn HC&S land at fair market value, and allow it for public use for organic farming only. They say it won’t cost taxpayers any money, because this county can float special revenue bonds. The only problem is the county doesn’t have the authority to do those kind of bonds, only the state can do that,” said Don. He continued to explain that this would prevent HC&S from leasing 36,000 acres of farmland to non-organic farmers, which would continue to hamper agriculture on Maui.
Listen to the full interview here: