Tag Archives: Pesticides

About the Big Island’s Water Quality

Richard Ha writes:

The State of Hawai‘i tested 24 sites throughout the islands for pesticide residue, and the Big Island tested the lowest. Of all the islands, we had the lowest amount of pesticide residue.

It’s interesting to note that “the USGS laboratory methods used for this study measure compounds at trace levels; commonly 10 to 1,000 times lower than drinking water standards and aquatic life guidelines.”

The document is called the 2013-14 STATE WIDE PESTICIDE SAMPLING PILOT PROJECT WATER QUALITY FINDINGS, A Joint Investigation by the Hawaii State Departments of Health and Agriculture.

From the executive summary (there’s lots more detail within the study itself):

Surface water samples collected from 24 sites statewide were analyzed for a total of 136 different pesticides or breakdown products. All locations had at least one pesticide detection. Only one pesticide, a historically used termiticide exceeded state and federal water regulatory limits. Five other pesticide compounds were detected at levels exceeding the most conservative EPA aquatic life benchmark. All other pesticides detected were lower than the most stringent aquatic or human health guideline value.

These findings represent a snapshot in time from a single sampling event within watersheds with multiple upstream inputs. While they provide useful information about pesticide occurrence across different land uses, they may not be representative of typical conditions or identify specific sources.

Key findings:

  • Every location sampled had a trace detection of one or more pesticides; however, the majority of these represented minute concentrations that fall below state and federal benchmarks for human health and ecosystems.
  • Land use significantly impacted the number and type of pesticides detected. Urban areas on Oahu showed the highest number of different pesticides.
  • Oahu’s urban streams had the highest number of different pesticides detected. Manoa Stream at the University of Hawaii showed 20 different pesticides and breakdown products.
  • Dieldrin, a termite treatment that has been banned from sale in Hawaii since 1980, exceeded State and Federal Water Quality standards in three urban locations on Oahu.
  • Fipronil detected in Manoa Stream and Waialae Iki Stream exceeded aquatic life benchmarks for freshwater invertebrates. Fipronil is an insecticide commonly used in residential settings and applied by commercial pest companies to treat soil for termites.
  • Atrazine and metolachlor, two restricted use herbicides, were detected on Kauai at agricultural sites downstream of seed crop operations. One location had levels that exceed aquatic life guidelines, but remain below regulatory standards.
  • The number of pesticides detected in water samples on Hawaii Island was lower than that of Kauai and Oahu.
  • Atrazine, a restricted use pesticide, was the most commonly found pesticide in the study. Of the sites tested, 80 percent had atrazine detections. Only two sites, one on Kauai, and one on Maui, reflected elevated concentrations suggestive of current use of atrazine. All of the remaining detections were trace level concentrations far below state and federal benchmarks.
  • The pilot study tested stream bed sediment at seven sites and found glyphosate, in all samples. Glyphosate (trade marked as Roundup) is widely used for residential, commercial, agricultural and roadside weed management.

Read the rest


The Cost of Farming

Richard Ha writes:

Now that the GMO discussion has stabilized, let’s move forward.

There is a big picture here that is not being discussed. In the coming weeks, I will be writing about various input costs of farming, because as costs go up we need to be planning and preparing. 

Today I want to discuss what farming looks like from a farmer’s point of view. 

Farmers were shocked back in 2008 when the cost of nitrogen fertilizer spiked. Ammonia is a key component for making nitrogen fertilizer, as well as plastics and pesticides, and the cost of ammonia is highly correlated with the price of natural gas.

Impact of Rising Natural Gas Prices on U.S. Ammonia Supply

Natural gas is the primary raw material used to produce ammonia. Approximately 33 million British thermal units (mm Btu) of natural gas are needed to produce 1 ton of ammonia. Natural gas accounts for 72-85 percent of the ammonia production cost, depending on the size of the ammonia plant and the price of ammonia (TFI (a)). Ammonia prices were weakly correlated with natural gas prices before 2000, but became strongly correlated after 2000….  Read the rest

Natural gas had been cheap, but its cost started rising and, in 2008, it reached $12/thousand cubic feet (mcf). I addressed the State Farm Bureau convention and told the farmers it was not their fault that fertilizer and input costs had risen so much and that their costs were suddenly so high.

After 2008, the price of natural gas declined dramatically because of shale oil and shale gas production. It dropped below $3/mcf. Right now it’s slightly higher, a little over $4/mcf,  because of winter home heating. 

So we’ve seen the effects of high natural gas prices on farming input before, back in 2008, and we know it will go up again.

What exactly is the outlook for the price of natural gas and therefore fertilizer, plastics and pesticide costs?

On the mainland, thousands of wells produce natural gas. Keep in mind, though, that the average gas well produces 90 percent of its total production – 90 percent of everything it’s going to ever produce – in its first five years. In contrast, Saudi Arabia oil fields have lasted for more than 50 years.

It’s only common sense that natural gas prices are going to rise, and therefore our farming input costs will go even higher. The only question is how fast and how high?

Coming up I’ll write about what people are predicting, as far as when prices will go up and how high they will go.


If The Farmers Make Money, The Farmers Will Farm

Richard Ha writes:

Though there are 820,000 acres of farmland on our agriculture-based Big Island, our island’s farmers were not consulted when Bill
113, the anti-GMO bill, was drafted.

There is no question: Bill 113 will harm the livelihood of Big Island farmers. It also means they will have to use more pesticides. It will drive up their costs and make them much less competitive. It means our island will be less food-secure.

Is this what we really want? Call or write your councilperson and tell him or her to kill Bill 113.

Ask him or her to create a task force so we can thoughtfully determine our way forward, in the spirit of aloha – so we can provide affordable food for the rubbah slippah folks and move toward food self-sufficiency.

When new biotech seeds are developed, people will be able to buy small packets of them over the Internet. But not here. Bill 113 will make it a crime for Big Island farmers to use those same seeds. Farmers using those seeds, which will make farming less pesticide-oriented and more affordable, would become criminals.

Such seeds are being developed right now by the University of Hawai‘i and other universities and will help our crops become virus- and disease-resistant. This will result in less pesticide usage and lower cost. With Bill 113, only Big Island farmers will be banned from using them. This will force Big Island farmers to use more pesticides than farmers off-island. Farmers are responsible stewards of the land, and this is a depressing and discouraging thought for Big Island farmers.

More than 90 percent of the food grown on the Big Island is
grown by conventional farmers. Bill 113 will drive their farming costs up, not down, and this is going to discourage farmers from farming. When farmers’ costs go up, they are less able to pass those increased costs on. Farmers are “price takers,” rather than “price makers.”

As costs go up, farming becomes less attractive and fewer farmers continue to farm. Bill 113 makes the Big Island less food-secure.

Organic farmers elsewhere will benefit from new biotech animal feed crops, because these will increase the source of manure for
composting. Nitrogen is important for protein and this is a crucial weak link for organic farmers. Bill 113 means organic farmers on the Big Island won’t have these benefits that other farmers will.

There are people that want to believe GMO crops are not safe, but they are ignoring the evidence. The science. All the world’s major health organizations endorse the use of GMO crops as safe.

More than two trillion meals made of foods containing GMOs
have been served over the last 20 years. In spite of all those meals, here in Hawai‘i we have the longest life expectancy in the nation for those 65 years and older.

Since ancient times, farmers in Hawai‘i have been respected in the Hawaiian culture. Bill 113 will forever change that relationship and will, instead, criminalize farmers. Some folks may even feel justified in taking matters into their own hands. Is this really what we want?

Please contact your councilperson and tell them you want them to kill Bill 113 and form a task force to carefully, intelligently study how we move forward.

It’s not a matter of who is right. It is a matter of what is right.


Bill 113 & The Big Picture

Richard Ha writes:

Yesterday at the Hawai‘i County Council meeting, the anti-GMO Bill 113 got a positive recommendation, meaning it now needs two votes by the Council and the Mayor’s signature to be adopted.

From this morning’s Hawai‘i Tribune Herald:

GMO bill heads to council


Tribune-Herald staff writer

A County Council committee gave a bill that would restrict the use of genetically altered crops a positive recommendation Tuesday, ensuring that the legislation would survive nearly five months after the committee first took on the controversial issue.

The legislation, Bill 113, was moved forward to the council level in a 6-2 vote with Puna Councilman Greggor Ilagan voting no and Council Chair J Yoshimoto voting no with reservations. Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi was absent….

Read the rest

At yesterday’s meeting, Councilperson Zendo Kern said the County has spent almost $20,000 on meetings regarding this topic. He said, “We can’t keep doing the same thing over and over and over again expecting a different result. That’s insanity.”

Councilperson Dru Kanuha said, “I think we are completely wasting our time, the committee’s time and taxpayer dollars on something that should have been talked about first and foremost.

Kanuha said a task force should have been formed first, in order to investigate and suggest action, and then a bill written.

But, instead, a bill was written first. And the predictable outcome was people yelling and screaming at each other.

Bill 113 exempts GMO papaya and corn now in cultivation – but outlawing future biotech crops, while giving GMO papayas and corn growers an exemption, de facto criminalizes those papaya
and corn farmers.

The bill’s sponsors say we need to move fast before the big seed companies come to the Big Island. But there are economic reasons they are not here. The Big Island is geologically young and has not eroded enough to develop flat, fertile lands. Tractors make money on the straightaways and lose money on the turns. Where we do have limited areas of flat and fertile lands, there is no irrigation infrastructure.

Maybe now, in picking up the pieces, we can focus on the big picture. We need to have, in the spirit of aloha, a serious discussion about food self-sufficiency for the island. We will need everyone’s contribution to this effort.

  • How can we achieve affordable food self-sufficiency?
  • How can we leverage our year-round growing season?

The downside of the wonderful gift of a year-round growing season is that weeds, insects and diseases thrive here, too.

In the past, we used pesticides almost exclusively to increase production. Now, there are new, biotech options that can help us increase production while decreasing pesticides. We can lower food costs and decrease the pressure on our environment at the same time.

Remember, food self-sufficiency involves farmers farming. If the farmers make money, the farmers will farm.


Grass Roots Farming

Richard Ha writes:

Science is great, but there are kids now that go to the
supermarket and think that’s where food comes from.

For me, it all goes back to Uncle Sonny and all the layers of technology that have cropped up since then.







When I first thought about farming, I spent hours and hours
talking to Uncle Sonny Kamahele down the beach at Maku‘u.

I’ve written about Uncle Sonny here and here. He was my Pop’s
cousin, and I learned the basic principles of farming from him.

I had just graduated from UH Manoa with an accounting degree.
I had cost benefit volume analysis and market share on my mind.


Uncle Sonny drove to town once a week. He did not have
electricity or running water, but he always had a stack of U.S. News & World Reports with the current copy on top. He made his living farming watermelon by himself.

One day he told me that he needed to open up a new plot of land because he could not stay at the same place for too long; he didn’t want to get a virus or a wilt of some sort.

Over the days and weeks, I watched him cut grass in the new plot with a sickle and pull it into a roll, and then cart the grass out of his plot in a wheelbarrow. When he wasn’t doing that, he would take a hoe and remove the roots of the grass, because he knew that otherwise it would regrow.

The other types of weed were dormant seeds of broad-leaved weeds that would germinate and pop up. Uncle Sonny would remove these with a hoe, only on dry days, without disturbing too much of the soil. After awhile the seeds would stop germinating.

Uncle Sonny knew that certain weeds could continuously regrow if the roots were not removed, and that others only grew from seed. I noticed that, after awhile, hardly any weeds grew in the new plot, and I thought about how amazing that was.

The lessons I learned from Uncle Sonny? Know what your problem is. Also: no waste time.

My grandma Leihulu lived with us for several years as I was growing up in Waiakea Uka. She grew taro and made poi, and she did the same things as Uncle Sonny. She always had a stack of California grass smoldering, even when it was raining – they were weeds she’d removed the same way he did. It was second nature to her. It was just her lifestyle.

Whenever I see a plot of ground that’s clean like that, it’s pretty obvious to me that they did that with a hoe, and that that is somebody that knows what they’re doing.

As Uncle Sonny got older, he started using pesticides, but because they cost money he was very very careful with them. It saves that part where you have to go and hoe the weeds out and go and pull the seeds out. It saved him a lot of time. It wasn’t very many years later that he started to use Roundup.

When I started farming, we were using skull & crossbones types of poisons like Paraquat. When we switched to Roundup, we didn’t have to use that anymore. It made spraying herbicides so much safer for the farmer.

When you use a chemical like Roundup in conjunction with a 100-hp tractor, you can do 1000 times more than one human can do. That means you can produce that much more food.  But now that herbicides kill everything, you start losing that knowledge; you don’t have to know what the old guys knew.

When Uncle Sonny used herbicides, he always stuck the leaf into it and saw if it worked. If not, he’d add a little more.

He followed the instructions, but he never relied on the instructions for the final result. He knew the formula, but he checked to make sure the result was what he wanted. It showed me that he knew what he was doing. He knew why that particular spreader was in there, and checked the proportions for sure. Not that he doubted, but if he wanted it to work very well, he’d check it himself.

I haven’t seen anybody, not anybody, do that. But I think it was common knowledge with the old folks.

We are so far removed from our food now that we don’t really have a connection with why we’re doing what we’re doing. But we need the basic knowledge. You’ve got to know why you’re doing what you are doing.