Richard Ha Hamakua Springs

Shutting Down the Farm & What’s Next

I met with my employees today to tell them our big news first, and now let me tell you about it:

We are shutting down the farm. The last bananas will be the ones we are bagging now, which will be ready around the end of March, and then that will be it.

The background, I explained to our workers, is that when we moved the farm here from Kea‘au, we were able to offer a good profit-sharing plan, and one of the best medical and dental plans you could get. It had vision and all kinds of extras.

But after a number of years, we started having a harder and harder time. First we couldn’t keep funding the profit-sharing plan and we had to discontinue that. Then we had to start cutting some of the medical benefits.

Then last year we had to cut wages one time. That was pretty desperate, and we always intended to raise them again, but we were never able to. And now, looking down the road, we see Banana Bunchy Top Disease, which is already in the gulches here nearby.

It’s all related to the price of oil. As the oil price has risen, folks that could pass on the cost did, but farmers cannot. When the oil price dropped recently, the cost of fertilizer, plastic, all sorts of things that have oil petroleum costs embedded in their prices, didn’t come down with it. Those costs stayed up.

The oil price will go back up again, and anticipating that we had to make a decision. It’s not that we’re going bankrupt – we’re not. We just need to do what we need to do before it gets to that point.

What Now?

We do have an option, as I explained to the workers.

A group that’s applying for a license to grow and distribute medical marijuana is interested in leasing some of our land, as well as the hydroelectric. Although I already knew we were shutting down when they first came to talk with me, I didn’t take it very seriously. But in the last few weeks, it’s become pretty serious.

My main concern is my workers. I told this other group that before I even considered leasing to them I’d need assurance they would give my workers first shot at jobs. They said they would. I also made some conditions regarding security. It’s not a sure thing, but on the outside chance they are granted a medical marijuana license, they will also have to take care of the community, especially in terms of security, so I can ensure that the community feels safe.

They are interested in me participating with their group because they know I know what I’m talking about when it comes to growing things, and about energy. We are talking but we haven’t signed any agreements about any of it yet.

I told my workers today that they can do whatever they need to do. If they want to take a layoff because feel they need to go out right now and start looking for a new job, they can. Or if they want to stay until the end of March, that’s okay too. They all said they will stick it out to the end.

I just heard the Alexander & Baldwin announcement that it’s transitioning out of sugar at its 36,000-acre sugar plantation on Maui. A&B’s Executive Chairman Stanley M. Kuriyama said, “The roughly $30 million agribusiness operating loss we expect to incur in 2015, and the forecast for continued significant losses, clearly are not sustainable, and we must now move forward with a new concept for our lands that allows us to keep them in productive agricultural use.”

“Transition” is the right word for what we’re doing, too. We don’t know exactly what the transition will look like, but we’ll still be around. The land that was in bananas is going to go into corn. A dairy that already leases land from us to grow corn is going to take the rest of that land and plant more.

We’ll see what happens with the rest, whether it’s the medical marijuana group or something else. There are options. Stay tuned.

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12 thoughts on “Shutting Down the Farm & What’s Next”

  1. Sorry to hear the news, but I totally understand the reasoning behind your decision. We at Ola’a Banana Co and other nearby farmers are facing the same pressure without any viable solutions on the horizon. Wishing you all the best in the future.

  2. I am so sorry to hear the news on so many levels. I wish to commend you on taking care of your people as best you can first, that is something not commonly found in business these days. I am also disheartened as I see so many try only to face the same result. In the end, who is going to grow our food? Are we going to become dependent on third world economies with unstable leadership? Our family will miss your products and already have miss the tomatoes. It is a very chilling feeling when Ag can’t make it in Hawaii, especially the “Big Guys” that know what they are doing and have excellent business acumen along with farming and people skills. Thanks for the heads up. The Maui sugar was a blow today, and now this. Take care whatever the future holds.

    Mahalo…..

  3. I’m sorry to hear the unfortunate news, however congratulations on being proactive, and considering a non-conventional, but lucrative and very necessary industry. Bring Hawaii’s agriculture back to life! I know you will do it!

  4. I am truly sorry to hear this but completely understand your position. I have always admired your business sense and ‘can do’ attitude as well as your vision and your responsibility towards your employees.. I wish you well in whatever future endeavors you decide to follow.

  5. I’m a Hawaii transplant from the Midwest. As a high school student, my friend’s father had to take a night-shift job at a manufacturing plant because their farm couldn’t turn a profit anymore. It was heartbreaking then and it is heartbreaking now to hear the news about your farm. If it can’t be sustainable in the Midwest where land is cheap, I can’t imagine how anyone can actually make a go of it here. Am I fooling myself to think I’m actually helping by belonging to a CSA and shopping at Farmer’s Markets? It seems like we need to do more than just “vote with our dollars” on this one. What can be done? I wish you luck and peace as you figure out next steps.

    1. By the way, I do have a 5 acre farm and plan on creating a U-Pick farm. Something you all may want to consider. Less oil and gas =)

  6. Richard I’m a healer on Maui working with Noni leaf and coconut oil for topical application in conjunction with RSO oil (Richard Simpson oil -cannabis). I don’t charge for my remedies and have found they can cure virtually anything from 3rd degree burns to mrsa (antibiotic resistant staph). A friend was recently put into remission from stage 4 cancer. Also working with honey as carrier and experimenting with Noni nectar as healing agent akin to Manuka. I want nothing other than to get these healing miracles out to the public without exploitation. Hoping this piques your interest and you will contact me at mauicheetah@aol.com or call or text 808 359-5555. Want to share what the ancient Hawaiians brought to heal. Much love and aloha for what you are doing for our beloved people and Aina.

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