Hawaii used to be an agricultural hub, but in recent years, the state has seen a steep decline in farming.
“Global competition, [caused the decline in farming] primarily. If you think about the past 30 years, we had pineapple and sugar as our main crops. Coffee is an important industry, and it has come up in the past decade or two, but pineapple and sugar were our best exports. As people found it cheaper to produce elsewhere, we’ve seen those plantations decrease in size,” said Steven Chiang, director of GoFarm Hawaii.
In fact, Hawaii Commercial and Sugar Cane Company (HC&S) is in the process of shutting down its plantation on Maui, which is located on 36,000 acres of agricultural land, reducing Maui agriculture by 78%.
With the closure of Hawaii’s major agriculture companies, why haven’t smaller farms filled in the gaps? “There’s two reasons in my view. One, it’s economically challenging, there’s easier ways to make money if that’s your goal,” explained Steven, “you also have to remember, when you have a farmer, the farmer is an entrepreneur… everything that a small business person would need to know [a farmer would need to know]… you have to know…. about weather, pests, diseases, soils.”
Recently, the question of government’s role in saving the farm industry has been a hot topic. “The government has good intentions,” said Steven, “There is some sense that maybe it lacks a specific vision to move towards, but to be fair, there’s been initiatives to open up farmland recently. We’ve also seen examples where a lot of acreage is opened up for farming, but because you don’t have all the other things that are required, it goes unfarmed. Some examples are, you have a piece of land, but no road to access it, or, you have a piece of land and there’s no well to bring water to the area. Those are big obstacles.”
Watch the full interview here: