Tag Archives: Agriculture

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.


Advocating for Agricultural Policy in Washington D.C.

Richard Ha writes:

I’m in Washington, D.C. for a joint meeting of CARET representatives (I’m the Hawai‘i representative for the Council on Agriculture, Research, Extension and Teaching) and the Administration Heads Section, which consists of the deans of the nation’s Land-Grant Colleges. This is my second year as Hawai‘i’s CARET representative and I’m getting my feet on the ground.

The University of Hawai‘i is a Land-Grant College, and the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) is its agriculture component.

A land-grant college or unversity is an institution that has been designated by its state legislature or Congress to receive the benefits of the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890. The original mission of these institutions, as set forth in the first Morrill Act, was to teach agriculture, military tactics, and the mechanic arts as well as classical studies so that members of the working classes could obtain a liberal, practical education. 

Before the Morrill Acts, only rich people could get a university degree. It is significant that President Lincoln signed the act into law. The Land Grant Colleges helped make the U.S. the premier agriculture nation in the world.

I’m happy to help promote the agriculture mission of CTAHR. CTAHR programs were very helpful in our farm being successful for so many years, and I have tremendous respect for the men and women in CTAHR’s programs.

After three days of meetings to discuss and strategize which specific programs of the Land-Grant Colleges we will lend support to, each CARET representative will go see his or her own congressional delegation.

Our situation is a little unusual because our state is so small and we actually know all four of our representatives and senators. My pockets are full. I brought mac nuts and coffee and I’ve been sharing it around with people. You know, aloha spirit. It’s what we do. I think I got them trained already.

There’s snow here!






You’re Invited to a Community Meeting re: Hamakua Agriculture

Richard Ha writes:

Save the dates:

  • Wednesday, October 29
  • Wednesday, November 5
  • Thursday, November 13
  • 6-8 p.m.
  • Laupahoehoe Community Public Charter School Bandroom

On these dates, the Hilo Hamakua Community Development Corporation will hold a series of community meetings to discuss agriculture on the Hamakua Coast. All are welcome (and refreshments are free).

We will take a 40,000 foot view of ag and its outside influences, and then look at the resources available to help us, such as the Daniel K. Inouye-Pacific Basin Ag Research Center (PBARC), the College of Tropical Ag and Human Resources (CTAHR), and the College of Ag, Forestry and Natural Resources Management (CAFNRM) at UH Hilo. 

There are many scientists researching various subjects. What do we want them to work on?

Farmers will be at the meeting to share their knowledge and experience.

Are you looking for land to farm? Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate with be there, and the Hamakua Ag Co-op has vacant land.

John Cross, former land manager for C. Brewer/Hilo Coast Processing, will attend. Did you know why all the sugar cane equipment had tracks, rather than rubber tires? Did you know that the plantations frequently planted banyan trees as significant landmarks? 

Jeff Melrose will be at the meetings. He recently did a study that's a snapshot of agriculture on the Big Island. He will talk about on what is grown on the Hamakua coast and why.

Come and talk story with the presenters, learn where you can get additional information, and speak up on what you would like to know more about in the future.

Ag & food security symposia



Why Our Agriculture Sector Is so Strong

Richard Ha writes:

Before there were land grant colleges, only the socially advantaged got a higher education. There were no public colleges.

Land grant colleges were formed in order to educate the masses; president Abraham Lincoln signed the legislation that created them. I wrote more about the history of land grant colleges here.

They are probably why the U.S. agricultural sector has led the world in food production for so many years. This blog post below asks a very significant question.

From the Western Farm Press blog:

Where would agriculture be without university research?

by Todd Fitchette May 13, 2014 

My fascination with agriculture developed when I was assigned the Ag beat with a daily newspaper. I quickly learned just how important agriculture was to the area I was living in at the time and the different things those who worked in it had to accomplish on a regular basis….

American agriculture owes much of its success to the land grant institutions and the work of cooperative extension. In my state that institution is the University of California. The farm advisor has proven to be an invaluable part of the commercial farming operation, regardless of its location in the United States….

Read the rest


‘Food Prices Soar as Incomes Stand Still’

Richard Ha writes:

Look at this article about what's going on with food producers in California, where they are having a devastating drought.

It is a good reminder that food security is our number one job. We need the help of all our Hawai‘i food producers to keep us food secure here, and we need to work together and support each other in the spirit of aloha. 

We need to recognize that ag and energy, without a shadow of a doubt, are inextricably tied together. 

In its simplest form, sustainability is about cost. We need to choose the lowest cost solution for our energy, which will keep our ag industry going, which will keep the food available and affordable. We need to choose the lowest cost solution because it will take care of all of us.

From Peakoil.com:

15 Reasons Why Your Food Prices Are About To Start Soaring

Did you know that the U.S. state that produces the most vegetables is going through the worst drought it has ever experienced and that the size of the total U.S. cattle herd is now the smallest that it has been since 1951?  Just the other day, a CBS News article boldly declared that “food prices soar as incomes stand still“, but the truth is that this is only just the beginning.  If the drought that has been devastating farmers and ranchers out west continues, we are going to see prices for meat, fruits and vegetables soar into the stratosphere.  Already, the federal government has declared portions of 11 states to be “disaster areas”, and California farmers are going to leave half a million acres sitting idle this year because of the extremely dry conditions.

Sadly, experts are telling us that things are probably going to get worse before they get better (if they ever do).  As you will read about below, one expert recently told National Geographic that throughout history it has been quite common for that region of North America to experience severe droughts that last for decades.  In fact, one drought actually lasted for about 200 years.  So there is the possibility that the drought that has begun in the state of California may not end during your entire lifetime….

Read the rest


Will You Send A Quick Email Of Support?

Richard Ha writes:

Will you write a quick email in support of Big Island farmers and ranchers?

We have formed a group Hawaii Farmers & Ranchers United, which is made up of the people who produce 93 percent of the agricultural products grown and raised on the Big Island. We came together in order to support House Bill 2506 and Senate Bill 3508, which amends Hawai‘i’s Right-To-Farm Act “to ensure that counties cannot enact laws, ordinances, or resolutions to limit the rights of farmers and ranchers to engage in modern farming and ranching practices.” This is in response to Hawai‘i County recently passing the anti-GMO bill.

Our Hawai‘i state lawmakers are being bombarded with emails, from the mainland and elsewhere in the world, urging them to defeat the Right-To-Farm Bill. Would you consider writing an email in support of the Right-To-Farm Bill?

Hawai‘i County’s recently passed anti-GMO bill prohibits Big Island producers from using any new biotech solutions to their farming challenges. Our competitors, elsewhere in Hawai‘i and on the mainland, will continue to have the benefit of advancing science and technology. Taking advantage of biotech solutions on the Big Island is about to become, literally, a criminal act.

If you can write a quick email in support, just say who you are, where you are from, and add a short note saying you supporting our local Big Island farmers and you support both HB2506 and SB3508.

Use this email to reach all Senators.

Use this email to reach all Representatives.

We appreciate your support.


Our Right To Farm

Richard Ha writes:

Thirty members of the Hawai‘i State House of Representatives just introduced the Right-To-Farm bill, which the Big Island Farmers and Ranchers United support. Farmers just want to go back to farming already.

From Civil Beat:

New Bill Would Strengthen Hawaii’s Right-To-Farm Act

Hawaii Rep. Richard Onishi from the Big Island has introduced a bill that would give Hawaii’s 2001 Right to Farm Act more teeth. 

The law currently protects farmers from nuisance lawsuits, stating: “No court, official, public servant, or public employee shall declare any farming operation a nuisance for any reason if the farming operation has been conducted in a manner consistent with generally accepted agricultural and management practices.”

Onishi’s bill would take the protections a step further and declare that the counties can’t pass laws that limit the rights of farmers and ranchers…. 

Read the rest

The anti-GMO bill that recently passed on the Big Island would prevent only Big Island farmers – and not their competition – from using biotech options and solutions to agriculture situations. It’s a disastrous bill that threatens our island’s food security, rather than strengthens it, which is where our focus should be.

Everybody is happy that this new bill came up, and really pleased so many legislators signed on. We feel that they recognize that we really just need to get back to our farming.

If the Right-To-Farm bill passes, then finally we can have the very important discussion about food security that we have not been able to. Agriculture and energy are inextricably tied together, and the question is:

How will our current and future energy situation affect our food security? And what can we do about it?


Our Newspapers Need To Cover The News

Richard Ha writes:

Where are our local newspapers?

Why does it take the Honolulu Star-Advertiser to back up our island’s local farmers and ranchers, and to point out that agricultural policy should never be set without the participation of the people producing our food?

This is what appears to be happening in Hawai‘i at the moment.

An excerpt from yesterday’s Star-Advertiser editorial, which talks about the Big Island’s recent passage of the “anti-GMO” bill 113:

“The state Legislature may be able to undo this wrong, but it will take true leadership and real political courage. Lawmakers should assert the state government’s authority over agricultural rules and enforcement, rather than standing by as the counties continue to impose undue burdens on local farmers.”

The article also asserts: “It’s time for elected officials and policymakers throughout the state to stand up and be counted. Let’s have an ‘Eat GMO Papaya Day.’ This food is safe, it’s affordable and it’s grown right here at home.”

And why does it take the Star-Advertiser to point out that our policies are exhibiting an unwarranted distrust of University of Hawai‘i specialists in tropical agriculture?

State must take lead in GMO debate

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jan 12, 2014

That a Big Island councilwoman would seek to revive a bill banning all genetically modified crops on Hawaii island, even though strict limits on such agriculture were approved only a month ago under another bill, indicates just how emboldened biotechnology foes have become in their quest to control Hawaii farmers.

The measure is not expected to pass, and should be rejected. It should not, however, be ignored, especially on Oahu. Councilwoman Brenda Ford’s proposal signals that rather than taking responsible action to assess the impact on local agriculture of the newly approved Bill 113, some elected officials are willing to put productive local farmers flat out of business. Login for more…

WHY does it take reporter Amy Harmon from the New York Times to tell us what is happening on our own island?

A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops


JAN. 4, 2014

KONA, Hawaii — From the moment the bill to ban genetically engineered crops on the island of Hawaii was introduced in May 2013, it garnered more vocal support than any the County Council here had ever considered, even the perennially popular bids to decriminalize marijuana.

Public hearings were dominated by recitations of the ills often attributed to genetically modified organisms, or G.M.O.s: cancer in rats, a rise in childhood allergies, out-of-control superweeds, genetic contamination, overuse of pesticides, the disappearance of butterflies and bees.

Like some others on the nine-member Council, Greggor Ilagan was not even sure at the outset of the debate exactly what genetically modified organisms were: living things whose DNA has been altered, often with the addition of a gene from a distant species, to produce a desired trait. But he could see why almost all of his colleagues had been persuaded of the virtue of turning the island into what the bill’s proponents called a “G.M.O.-free oasis.”

“You just type ‘G.M.O.’ and everything you see is negative,” he told his staff. Opposing the ban also seemed likely to ruin anyone’s re-election prospects.

Yet doubts nagged at the councilman, who was serving his first two-year term. The island’s papaya farmers said that an engineered variety had saved their fruit from a devastating disease. A study reporting that a diet of G.M.O. corn caused tumors in rats, mentioned often by the ban’s supporters, turned out to have been thoroughly debunked.

And University of Hawaii biologists urged the Council to consider the global scientific consensus, which holds that existing genetically engineered crops are no riskier than others, and have provided some tangible benefits.

“Are we going to just ignore them?” Mr. Ilagan wondered.  Read the rest

Enough is enough.

Our newspapers need to report the news.

And our leaders need to step up and be accountable.

How Things Work: A Disconnect

Richard Ha writes:

Take a look at this survey of “Hawai‘i’s Food and Ag Challenges Ranked in Order of Importance.”

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Between October 2012 and December 2013, while the Hawai‘i Rural Development Council screened the film “Seeds of Hope – Na Kupu Mana‘olana” around our state, it asked viewers to fill out this survey about the issues discussed in the movie.

Survey takers ranked “Food Security” as our number one food and agriculture challenge (note that “GMO Agriculture” came in as lowest priority of the five issues discussed).

Statewide, 94 percent of survey takers thought Food Security should be either “top priority” or “important” as a state policy issue, and on the Big Island, 97 percent of people thought so.

This is what I have been saying, over and over. Food security is a critical issue out here, in the middle of the ocean, where we import most of our food. We need to have important and rational discussions, now, about how we will ensure we are food secure as conditions continue to get more challenging.

It’s a real disconnect to realize that 97 percent of people on the Big Island consider food security “important” or even “top priority,” and then to think about recent community support of the Hawai‘i County Council’s banning GMO/biotech solutions on the Big Island.

All I can come up with is that there are a lot of people who don’t see the whole big picture and who don’t see that there are unintended consequences:

  • Because only Big Island farmers are banned from using biotech solutions to agricultural problems, their competition (farmers on other islands and the mainland) will end up having lower costs and more successful crops
  • This will undeniably lead to a decline in agriculture on the Big Island
  • This will undeniably lead to less food security

We need to take a hard look at what we are doing now so that we head down the right path. The decisions we make now will affect not only us, but also our grandchildren and their grandchildren. Let’s make sure they are able to thrive and live a good, affordable, food-secure life here on the Big Island when it’s their turn.