Category Archives: Science

Precision Ag: MIT Students Use Drones to Analyze Soil Nutrient Load at Hamakua Springs

Richard was out with some Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) students conducting precision ag research at his farm when their drone swooped by and snapped this.

precision ag
Looking down on the group at  Hamakua Springs from a drone.

The undergraduate students are here with MIT’s Traveling Research Environmental Experiences (TREX) field research course. They are doing some environmental testing projects. At Hamakua Springs, their project is about “precision ag.”

‘Iolani School graduate Jon Kaneshiro is a graduate student in environmental engineering at MIT and a teaching assistant in the course. He explains they are using the drone to take remote images of the farm’s sweet potato fields. Then they process the images to analyze nutrient load.

“Using these high-definition, high-resolution drone images,” he says, “we can do some cool coding and processing to create a mosaic of a farm. It lets us see where potential low nutrient points are; where the plants aren’t doing well in the field. Sometimes if you just look at the field everything looks green. But if you use different image processing techniques, you can see which places are not doing as well as other places.”

Some large-scale farms might be using the technology, but Kaneshiro hasn’t heard of any Hawai‘i farmers using it.

It means a farmer doesn’t have to rely on satellite images, where resolution is poor. Clouds, too, can block satellite views. “We have big data from satellites,” he says, “but the resolution is oftentimes not enough to analyze your own smaller field.”

MIT Soil Nutrition

“Drones are pretty accessible,” he says. “They can cost a couple or a few thousand dollars. But if you hired a helicopter it’s going to be a thousand for only one ride. As compared to a drone, where you can go out with it every day. Or even multiple times in one day.”

The students are studying two different plots at Richard’s farm. One is 12-acres and the other is a four-acre plot of sweet potatoes.

Processing the Photos for Precision Ag

They process the raw images using applications and coding to isolate different types of bands, wavelengths, frequencies and the like. “We use software to code it,” says Kaneshiro, “but some of the students are really smart and doing it themselves, using coding and algorithms.”

“When you isolate the bands, you can see, visually, at a more intense level where there’s less growth in an area. You can see where the hot spots are.”

Once they find the “hot spots,” they test the soil at those places for pH and other nutrient levels.

“We can map the data onto the images and look at correlations and see what’s going on,” he says. “Why there are higher nutrients here, and where we need more nutrients.”

He says it’s a complex process but that it’s fun to see it all come together.

It’s merging remote sensing with precision ag, he explains. “The idea is that instead of a farmer dispersing large amounts of fertilizer over his whole field, maybe he can realize that, okay, that little 10 x 10 square in that corner over there needs more or less fertilizer, maybe because of a topographic feature.”

He says it’s a big divide. “We have the technology and the skills, but the divide between the farmers and the scientists is big.”

The students will be presenting about their project, as well as on sulfur dioxide sensors they have deployed in Pahala, at the Kona Science Cafe on Wednesday, January 25, 2017 at 5 p.m.. The public is welcome.

Facebooktwittermail

CRISPR-cas9: Jennifer Doudna is a Role Model

U.S. patent judges have started hearing a case about who will hold the patent on the gene editing technology called CRISPR-cas9.

One of the main players is Dr. Jennifer Doudna, a scientist affiliated with the University of California at Berkeley.

I’ve written about Jennifer Doudna here before. She grew up in Hilo and graduated from Hilo High. What a great role model she is for our kids. We need to nurture our young people here to learn and reach for the stars (or the genes), as she has done. Not, no can. CAN!

“The stakes are enormous,” Anette Breindl, senior science editor at the trade journal BioWorld, told NPR about the patent case. She said three companies built around those patents “already have a billion dollars of investment behind them, and a fourth company has a stake in the technology that could be worth $2 billion.

From NPR’s All Things Considered:

The high-stakes fight over who invented a technology that could revolutionize medicine and agriculture heads to a courtroom Tuesday….

“This is arguably the biggest biotechnology breakthrough in the past 30 or 40 years, and controlling who owns the foundational intellectual property behind that is consequentially pretty important,” says Jacob Sherkow, a professor at the New York Law College.

The CRISPR-cas9 technology allows scientists to make precise edits in DNA, and that ability could lead to whole new medical therapies, research tools and even new crop varieties.

…On one side of the dispute are research collaborators Jennifer Doudna at the University of California, Berkeley and her European colleague Emmanuelle Charpentier (currently at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin).

“When they filed their patent application [in 2012], they did a great job disclosing how to use CRISPR for bacteria, but were a little lighter on details about how to use CRISPR in the cells of higher organisms” such as human cells, [Jacob Sherkow, a professor at the New York Law College] says.

“Later in 2012, Feng Zhang at the Broad Institute at MIT and Harvard files his patent application that gives a pretty detailed description about how to use CRISPR in the cells of higher organisms,” Sherkow continues.

And since the most important use of the technology is its ability to edit DNA in higher organisms, the real battle is over who can claim that invention.

Read the rest

Photo by Hiroshi Nishimasu, F. Ann Ran, Patrick D. Hsu, Silvana Konermann, Soraya I. Shehata, Naoshi Dohmae, Ryuichiro Ishitani, Feng Zhang, and Osamu Nureki [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Facebooktwittermail

Pro TMT: Didn’t Just Fall Off the Tomato Truck

Through their former attorney Richard Naiwieha Wurdeman, some of those who feel the Thirty Meter Telescope should not be built atop Mauna Kea suggest I helped form the pro TMT group PUEO, short for Perpetuating Unique Educational Opportunities, on the spot – that we just popped up out of nowhere.

You can read that in this Civil Beat article about the TMT Contested Case Hearing, which starts Tuesday.

From Civil Beat:

Apart from the TMT itself, the only intervenor that has taken a stance in favor of the TMT’s construction is a group calling itself PUEO, short for Perpetuating Unique Educational Opportunities, Inc. As described in its petition for standing, PUEO’s purposes “include furthering ‘educational opportunities for the children of Hawaii in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.’ Its board members and beneficiaries include native Hawaiians that reside in the Keaukaha-Panaewa Hawaiian Homesteads located in Hilo, Hawaii. PUEO’s board members include native Hawaiians who seek knowledge and understanding and exercise customary and traditional native Hawaiian rights on Mauna Kea.”

The original petitioners have objected strenuously to PUEO’s admission as an intervenor. In a memorandum opposing Amano’s decision to admit PUEO, the original petitioners’ attorney, Wurdeman, claims that PUEO was formed for the sole purpose of intervening in the case.

“[G]iven the timing of its formation, the P.U.E.O., Inc., was obviously formed solely to try and participate in the contested case hearing and the Petitioners submit that such an attempt is clearly improper,” Wurdeman wrote.

The Reality

The truth, of course, is that I have been a very vocal supporter of the Thirty Meter Telescope for many years.

For years I’ve written at my blog and elsewhere about the Adopt-A-Class program. We formed that program to help kids in schools that cannot afford field trips. The program, which expanded after awhile to cover every class on the Big Island, paid for buses and admission to send students to ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center once a year, where they learned about the world-class science on Mauna Kea as well as our traditional Hawaiian culture. My first of many posts about Adopt-A-Class was nine years ago, in 2007:

My friend Duane Kanuha and I have this big idea, and we’re asking for your help: We want to send Keaukaha students on excursions that broaden their horizons and help them develop excitement for learning and positive attitudes about their place in the world. It’s my opinion that if Hawaiian kids are comfortable with their place in the world, they will not hesitate to participate in that world.

I’m specifically thinking about excursions to Hilo’s new astronomy center ‘Imiloa. ‘Imiloa is particularly powerful because it situates the Hawaiian culture and scientific knowledge in parity with the highest level of astronomy. It is a “discovery center” that celebrates both science (the world-class astronomy atop nearby Mauna Kea) and Hawaiian culture (including the marvels of traditional Hawaiian voyaging, navigation and much more).

It’s a place where Hawaiian kids see that there are careers and avocations directly related to their culture, and that these cultural traditions are important enough that they are celebrated in a world-class museum. And that the people pursuing these careers and passions are people who look just like them and their families.

I’ve written about Kumu Lehua Veincent asking me “What about the rest?” (of the students) since at least 2009, and many times since:

What I keep coming back to again and again is what Kumu Lehua Veincent told me the first time I asked him what the TMT should offer the Big Island as an introductory, good faith gift. I asked him if it would be appropriate to ask for “full ride” scholarships for at least five native Hawaiians to attend the best colleges in the nation.

He asked me, in a very sincere way, “And what about the rest?”

I felt so stupid that I could feel my ears getting hot.

That is the essential question: “What about the rest?” This is about the keiki, the future generations—all of them.

Three years later, University of Hawai‘i President McClain has announced that if the TMT comes to Hawai‘i, in addition to its other negotiations there will be an annual, $1 million benefit package for education emphasizing K-12. It will be effective for the life of the project—50 years—and will begin as soon as all the permits are in place.

It will be set up to address Kumu Lehua’s question: “What about the rest?”

The Process

The first time I wrote about Patrick Kahawaiola‘a, and what I learned from him about how important the process is as we talk about TMT, was also in 2009:

We talked story in the community a lot, and over and over we heard from Patrick Kahawaiola‘a, President of the Keaukaha Community Association, that the most important thing was “the process.”

And as we thought about this, we realized that if the process is most important, then all contributors to the process, no matter what side of the issue they are on, made for a better product. And so we always need to aloha the loud voices, too, who early on told us that things were not quite right. It was about us. All of us. Not me against you.

So when we had our first sign waving in support of the TMT, nearly 150 people showed up. We told everyone that we were meeting to celebrate the process and told them to bring their kids, and they did. It was very significant.

I also wrote about it six years ago in this 2010 post:

As we went around visiting people, Patrick Kahawaiola‘a,
 president of the Keaukaha Community Association, told me that it’s about “the 
process.” And since the process would result in the best possible result, we
 need to aloha everyone who participates in the process, no matter which side of 
the issue they are on. Therefore, we must mahalo Kealoha, Nelson, Debbie, Paul,
 Ku, Hanalei, the Kanaka Council, Jim, Cory, Moani and many others. We would not 
be here today had it not been for their passionate advocacy.

The whole state has noticed that we on the Big Island are
 doing this differently. Our approach is based on mutual respect, collaboration 
and trust. The TMT folks, led by Henry Yang, did it the right way. It
 would not have worked any other way.

And I’ve been writing about the TMT’s money for education, which became the THINK Fund, many times since 2009:

If we teach our keiki the values they need to make a society that is successful and thriving “when the boat no come,” we will have done our jobs. This $1 million that will be dedicated to keiki education annually is key to the survival of future generations. It is no longer about us – it is about the future generations.

We must learn and perpetuate what it was that allowed Hawaiians to survive for hundreds of years out in the middle of the ocean without boats coming in every day with goods from someplace else.

In the future, our values will need to revolve around aloha. We will need to assume responsibility—kuleana. We need to make more friends and stay closer to our families.

We live in the modern world, so how do we use what we have and meld it with the values that worked? We need to have a balance of science and culture in order for all of us to do what we do to help our greater society.

My Pop told me: “There are a thousand reasons why ‘No can.’ I only looking for one reason why ‘Can.’”

What it really all boils down to, as I wrote above, is the process. In the last six years or more, I’ve spoken and written about how it’s all about the process many, many times. If the process is pono, and we aloha everyone on all sides of the issue, then we’re good.

Let’s proceed with the process.

Facebooktwittermail

Why Jennifer Doudna Has Trouble Sleeping

In my last post, Hilo High Grad Makes Crispr ‘Discovery Of The Century,’ I wrote about the amazing Dr. Jennifer Doudna and her CRISPr gene-editing technology, which is taking the science world by storm.

I also wrote that it can be controversial. Today I want to share an article by Dr. Doudna, one of CRISPr’s discoverers. She wrote this article for Nature, the international weekly journal of science. It’s about her concerns over the philosophical and ethical ramifications of genomes that are easily-altered.

From Nature.com:

Genome-editing revolution: My whirlwind year with CRISPR, by Jennifer Doudna

22 December 2015

Some 20 months ago, I started having trouble sleeping. It had been almost two years since my colleagues and I had published a paper describing how a bacterial system called CRISPR–Cas9 could be used to engineer genomes (see ‘Based on bacteria’).

I had been astounded at how quickly labs around the world had adopted the technology for applications across biology, from modifying plants to altering butterfly-wing patterns to fine-tuning rat models of human disease. At the same time, I’d avoided thinking too much about the philosophical and ethical ramifications of widely accessible tools for altering genomes.

Questions about whether genome editing should ever be used for non-medical enhancement, for example, seemed mired in subjectivity — a long way from the evidence-based work I am comfortable with. I told myself that bioethicists were better positioned to take the lead on such issues. Like everyone else, I wanted to get on with the science made possible by the technology….

 Read the rest

Facebooktwittermail

Hilo High Grad Makes CRISPr ‘Discovery of the Century’

Are you familiar with CRISPr gene-editing technology? It’s been called the discovery of the century, but it’s not well known yet outside of science circles. From time to time I’m going to write here about what’s going on with it.

At ScienceNews.org, they talk about it this way:

Scientists usually shy away from using the word miracle — unless they’re talking about the gene-editing tool called CRISPR/Cas9. “You can do anything with CRISPR,” some say. Others just call it amazing.

An interesting fact: Dr. Jennifer Doudna, credited with discovering this technology and one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world, graduated from Hilo High.

Jennifer Doudna, CRISPr

She and a colleague “helped make one of the most monumental discoveries in biology: a relatively easy way to alter any organism’s DNA, just as a computer user can edit a word in a document,” according to The New York Times. People are saying she may get a Nobel Prize for Chemistry for it.

The New York Times article also states:

The discovery has turned Dr. Doudna (the first syllable rhymes with loud) into a celebrity of sorts, the recipient of numerous accolades and prizes. The so-called Crispr-Cas9 genome editing technique is already widely used in laboratory studies, and scientists hope it may one day help rewrite flawed genes in people, opening tremendous new possibilities for treating, even curing, diseases.

But what is it? In an article called “Everything You Need to Know About CRISPR, the New Tool that Edits DNA,” Gizmodo writes:

CRISPR, a new genome editing tool, could transform the field of biology—and a recent study on genetically-engineered human embryos has converted this promise into media hype. But scientists have been tinkering with genomes for decades. Why is CRISPR suddenly such a big deal?

The short answer is that CRISPR allows scientists to edit genomes with unprecedented precision, efficiency, and flexibility. The past few years have seen a flurry of “firsts” with CRISPR, from creating monkeys with targeted mutations to preventing HIV infection in human cells. Earlier this month, Chinese scientists announced they applied the technique to nonviable human embryos, hinting at CRISPR’s potential to cure any genetic disease. And yes, it might even lead to designer babies. (Though, as the results of that study show, it’s still far from ready for the doctor’s office.) 

In short, CRISPR is far better than older techniques for gene splicing and editing. And you know what? Scientists didn’t invent it.

CRISPR/Cas9 comes from strep bacteria…

CRISPR is actually a naturally-occurring, ancient defense mechanism found in a wide range of bacteria. As far as back the 1980s, scientists observed a strange pattern in some bacterial genomes. One DNA sequence would be repeated over and over again, with unique sequences in between the repeats. They called this odd configuration “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats,” or CRISPR.

This was all puzzling until scientists realized the unique sequences in between the repeats matched the DNA of viruses—specifically viruses that prey on bacteria. It turns out CRISPR is one part of the bacteria’s immune system, which keeps bits of dangerous viruses around so it can recognize and defend against those viruses next time they attack. The second part of the defense mechanism is a set of enzymes called Cas (CRISPR-associated proteins), which can precisely snip DNA and slice the hell out of invading viruses. Conveniently, the genes that encode for Cas are always sitting somewhere near the CRISPR sequences….

Read the rest

Although the technology is not without controversy, it is a very interesting subject. It’s going to be huge. I’m following the topic and will occasionally write about it here.

Facebooktwittermail

Part Four: Strong Medical Cannabis Research Happening in Israel

When it comes to cutting-edge medical cannabis research, Israel is the hot spot.

Recreational marijuana is illegal in Israel, but the Israeli government encourages the use of cannabis therapeutically. The Ministry of Health there oversees the growing and distribution of medical marijuana.

Last year, doctors in Israel prescribed medical marijuana to about 25,000 patients with cancer, degenerative diseases, epilepsy, and post-traumatic stress.

The big push on medical cannabis research in Israel right now? A purified form of cannabis that can be administered in precise doses and with minimal side-effects.

Federal law here in the U.S. makes it difficult for scientists to study the plant and its medicinal potential. Israel, though, doesn’t have the same restrictions. And unlike in other countries, human clinical trials on medical cannabis are allowed in Israel.

In fact, an Israeli biochemist is the world’s pioneer and foremost expert on medical marijuana research. In the 1960s, Raphael Mechoulam determined the structure of cannabis’s component cannabidiol (CBD). He also isolated tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) for the first time.

He also identified the brain’s first endogenous cannabinoid and found a compound in the body that activates cannabinoid receptors. Although he retired years ago, the octagenarian still goes to work to conduct his medical marijuana research.

Working Together

American and Canadian pharmaceutical companies, tobacco companies, and producers work with Israel researchers and organizations. Even the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) funds research in Israel. The NIH has helped fund Mechoulam’s medical cannabis research for almost 50 years.

The Hebrew Unversity of Jerusalem recently opened a cannabis research center. There are now 20 such research centers in Israel. And this year, Tel Aviv hosted the second annual international conference on medical cannabis, CannaTech.

Watch The Scientist (1:02), a documentary about Dr. Mechoulam.

“The Scientist” is a documentary that traces the story of Dr. Mechoulam from his early days……as a child of the Holocaust in Bulgaria, through his immigration to Israel, and his career as the chief investigator into the chemistry and biology of the world’s most misunderstood plant. Dr. Mechoulam ascertained that THC interacts with the largest receptor system in the human body, the endocannabinoid system (ECS). 

Also in this series:

Part 1: The History of Cannabis

Part 2: How Cannabis Works

Part 3: Who Takes Medical Marijuana?

Facebooktwittermail

IfA Director Insists on Strong Hilo Astronomy Program

Guenther Hasinger, director of the Institute for Astronomy (IfA), really impresses me.

I first met him when I sat on the selection committee for the new IfA director. On that committee, I was looking for someone who would understand us here on the Big Island, and who would advocate for the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo astronomy department.

Hasinger just announced that undergraduate students at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo (UHH) will get viewing time at Mauna Kea observatories for the first time, up to 16 nights per year.

You can read more about this in Saturday’s Hawaii Tribune-Herald:

Guenther Hasinger, IfA director, said it’s unusual for an undergraduate astronomy program to be granted dedicated viewing time. Typically, observing time is reserved based solely on the caliber of research.

But few programs sit at the bottom of one of the world’s top telescope sites.

“From my point of view, it is absolutely necessary to have a very strong astronomy program in Hilo,” Hasinger said.

“We want to ground the telescopes in the community.”

Read the rest

Accomplishments

He impresses me for several reasons.

First of all, he was scientific director at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics near Munich, and received numerous awards for his research and contributions to space science. These include Germany’s most significant research prize and the international Committee on Space Research award.

Also, he wrote a book called Das Schicksal des Universums (Fate of the Universe), which explains astrophysics and cosmology to a wide audience. It won the Science Book of the Year award in Germany and was popular in Europe. I asked him how he did it. How does an astronomer write a book that’s popular with the general public? He told me he can relate to the average person. Right there I thought, “This is the guy for the IfA.”

And furthermore, before he applied for the IfA position, he went to a ceremony at Halema‘uma‘u to show respect. He didn’t talk about it in his official presentation; we had to drag it out of him.

Historically, the IfA is O‘ahu-centric. And here on the Big Island, we’ve always had to fight for anything we get. With Dr. Hasinger, we have someone who is respectful of the Big Island.

Hasinger advocates for growing the UH-Hilo Astronomy department.

“From my point of view, it is absolutely necessary to have a very strong astronomy program in Hilo,” he said in the Hawai‘i Tribune-Herald article.

Read the University of Hawai‘i Memo of Understanding about this change here:

Memo of Understanding

 

Facebooktwittermail

GMOS Safe, Dennis Gonsalves a Big Island Hero

After an enormous amount of research, the verdict is in: GMO foods are safe. The Big Island’s Dennis Gonsalves, who designed the virus-resistant Rainbow papaya, is a hero.

The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine examined almost 900 studies, conducted over the past 20 years, and heard from 80 speakers.

The Academies’ mission is to provide “independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation and conduct other activities to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions.” They say there is no evidence GMO crops cause human health risks or environmental problems. Details  here.

But still, here in Hawai‘i, I am ashamed. One of our own saved the papaya industry with genetic engineering and we just threw him under the bus.

Dennis Gonsalves is a Hawaiian and retired professor of plant pathology at Cornell University. He was at the forefront of developing the virus-resistant Rainbow papaya. His work brought the Big Island’s dying papaya industry back from the brink. Without it, we flat out would not have a papaya industry today.

Did you know that people from all over the world fly Dennis Gonsalves in for help? They honor him and ask him for help with their crop problems.

Here, though, our own people demonized and sacrificed Dennis. It makes us Hawaiians look like idiots.

GMO Hysteria

Remember back in late 2013 when the Hawaii County Council voted on whether or not to ban genetically engineered crops? It was near-hysteria. The County Council brought in a yogic “flyer” with no scientific credentials to testify about GMOs. They refused to listen to our own scientists. We actually had to listen to the self-proclaimed GMO “expert’s” testimony for 45 minutes.

Amy Harmon wrote a very good article for the New York Times about that time. She wrote about County Council member Greggor Ilagan and his impressive effort to actually research genetic engineering.

Now the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine confirms that GMOs are safe, and we know that our County Council was wrong to approve a ban on them.

We’ve gone from anti-science hysteria to knowing GMOs are safe, but there’s a native Hawaiian casulty — a local guy from Kohala that people all over the world honor.

We should be praising Dennis. We should be holding him up for young people to be inspired by. He’s a hero and I’d like to see us honor him. It was very shortsighted and unfair that we did not stand up for him. We should all be ashamed.

Facebooktwittermail

Better Farming Through Soil Full of Microbes

I’m always saying, “If the farmers make money, the farmers will farm.” It’s very basic. But what’s also basic is that if the soil is healthy, the plants will grow.

Nobody wants to need pesticides to grow their food, but you need some way to keep the disease and pests away from the plants. Using pesticides is expensive, and it’s something most farmers just would rather not do.

Now scientists are talking about how microbes in the dirt may protect plants just as our own immune system protects our bodies. They are discovering that there is a real similarity between soil immunity and a human’s immune system.

From The New York Times:

Researchers divide our immune responses into two types: an all-purpose defense against invaders, and precise assaults on specific enemies. Soil microbes seem to rely on a similarly two-pronged strategy.

When soils are loaded with microbes, they use so many nutrients that it’s hard for a lethal blight or other pathogen to gain a foothold. Some may manage to survive, but they don’t flourish — or wreak havoc on plants.

When scientists heat up soil and kill its native microbes, pathogens begin to grow, feasting on the nutrients in the soil and eventually attacking plants.

Along with this general defense, soil microbes can also target individual species of pathogens. Scientists have found that a strain of Pseudomonas bacteria, for instance, can protect wheat from a fungal disease called take-all root rot.

It’s a complex business, and scientists are finding farmers may be able to encourage plant-protecting microbes in their fields. And they might also be able to breed crops that are better at producing needed microbes. Read more in the New York Times article.

This is important research and could be very helpful for farmers. It’s along the same lines that Korean Natural farmers and other soil health proponents are utilizing.

Facebooktwittermail

No Problems with Pesticides, No Need

Several experts have come out saying many of the recommendations made by a fact-finding group that studied potential pesticide hazards on the west side of Kaua‘i last year are likely not needed.

And then there was an editorial saying just that in yesterday’s Hawaii Star-Advertiser:

Editorial| Our View
Don’t overreact to pesticide study

June 9, 2016

A fact-finding mission to determine whether pesticides used by large agricultural operations on the west side of Kauai cause harm to humans and the environment found no smoking gun. So it would be difficult to justify spending millions of taxpayer dollars to implement all 28 of the panel’s policy recommendations….

Read the rest

And a news story from the Star-Advertiser last week:

State officials, experts question the practicality of group’s pesticide report

By Sophie Cocke, June 5, 2016 

State regulators and experts in the fields of health and environmental science say that many of the recommendations put forward by a joint fact-finding group convened to study the potential hazards of pesticide use by large agricultural operations on the west side of Kauai likely aren’t useful, would cost millions of dollars annually and in some cases exceed state resources and expertise.

The study group, originally composed of nine Kauai residents with diverse backgrounds, and facilitated by mediation specialist Peter Adler of consulting company ACCORD3.0 Network, spent months sifting through scientific research and health data to evaluate whether there is any indication that pesticide use on the west side of Kauai is harming the environment or human health….

Read the rest

The report, released last week, found no evidence that pesticides are making people sick on Kaua‘i or posing any significant environmental risk. However, it put forth 28 recommendations for continued monitoring and studies.

Peter Adler, who spearheaded that fact-finding group last year, spoke to us at the Department of Agriculture on Tuesday and afterwards, people in the audience spoke up. Two of three people who resigned in protest from that fact-finding group were present and said they did not think the fact-finding was fair or justified. They thought it was one-sided, which is why they resigned from the group. They were very persuasive.

Then on Sunday, Bruce Anderson, formerly the director of the Department of Ag and now  administrator for the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Divison of Aquatic Resources, was quoted about this in the above Star-Advertiser article.

He said he does not agree that the huge expense and efforts are needed. He pointed out that the recommended monitoring would likely cost millions of dollars per year. I find Bruce very credible.

“The bottom line was that there were no problems found,” he said, “and it is hard to justify the extraordinary expense involved in long-term monitoring of air, water and other exposures to pesticides. There is nothing really unique about the west side of Kauai. It’s an agricultural area, pretty much the same as other agricultural areas.”

I come to the same conclusions as Bruce.

Last summer, several of us from the Department of Agriculture went to Kaua‘i to see how the seed companies were performing under their voluntary “Good Neighbor” policy. This is a policy where they voluntary refrained from spraying close to hospitals and schools, etc.

We met with some of the large seed companies, and the senior level executives spoke, then the mid-level people, but I didn’t just listen to the bosses. I listened to the folks on the ground who were implementing that policy, and asked them questions, and found that their answers supported what the bosses said.

It seemed to me that the Good Neighbor Policy was very reasonable, and the way they were carrying it out seemed to make a lot of sense from a farmers’ point of view. Frankly, I came to the conclusion that it seemed like a very good program.

Facebooktwittermail