It was standing room only at the Aupuni Center last night at a meeting held to discuss the announced Department of Agriculture layoffs.
The meeting was called by Senators Russell Kokubun and Dwight Takamine. In attendance were Mayor Billy Kenoi, Senator Gary Hooser, and Representatives Clift Tsuji, Bob Herkes, Faye Hanohano and Jerry Chang.
Many people talked about the effects on specific operations. For example, the cut in the pesticide branch will mean less timely inspections of violations, and less monitoring of the spread of the Varoa mites, which could be devastating to the honey bee industry. There will be less monitoring and eradication of the Banana Bunchy Top virus, which has the potential to devastate the Big Island banana industry. The papaya industry relies on state inspectors to vouch for the proper operation of quarantine measures, which is crucial for our papaya industry to survive and prosper.
The Plant Quarantine department works to prevent unwanted pests coming in on produce and other agricultural goods. It is anticipated that produce will not be inspected on a timely basis, and therefore unwanted pests will slip in.
Many folks testified about how the cutback will hurt the local agricultural community.
I testified from a global perspective on behalf of the state Farm Bureau, of which I am Treasurer. I said that the world has changed forever and it is not business as usual. I said that the world oil supply is depleting faster than we are able to find new sources of oil. The consequence will be higher and higher oil prices and shrinking discretionary income as we export our economy to buy oil. We are not going to back to the good old days of exponential growth. We need to be prepared for a new normal.
The Department of Agriculture supports the export of agriculture products, and it supports the production of locally grown produce. Its budget is only .03% of the State budget; just a tiny amount.
I asked if we should not consider reprioritizing. Exporting products counters the export of our economy to buy foreign oil. And there is nothing more important than eating.
We know that Food Security requires that farmers produce food. And if a farmer makes money, the farmer will farm.