Thousands of papaya trees felled under cover of night, goats kidnapped, Big Island farmers’ prized coffee crops destroyed by a coffee borer beetle — Hawaii farmers have had a tough year.

This legislative session, lawmakers are pushing an assortment of bills to try to ease their troubles.

Proposals include increasing penalties for eco-terrorism, boosting feed subsidies, using dogs that can sniff out non-native species such as stowaway snakes, and implementing state mandates for increasing the amount of food grown locally.

Local Food Targets (bill pending introduction): Farmers are banding together to pressure the state to get serious about local food production. Hawaii imports 85 percent to 90 percent of its food.

A bill in the works would require the state to double the amount of food produced locally by 2020, according to Robert Harris, director of the Hawaii Sierra Club. Other benchmarks would also be established.

The legislation is modeled after the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative that fines the local electric utilities if they don’t meet targets for increasing the amount of renewable energy on its grids.

If the state fails to meet local food targets, there would be a moratorium on the reclassification of large parcels of agricultural lands for development, said Harris.

Invasive Species (bills pending introduction): Hawaii is often referred to as the invasive species capital of the world. Out of the 400 species that are classified as endangered or threatened under federal law, about 370 of them are found in Hawaii, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Protecting Hawaii’s borders is a priority for chairs of the Senate and House committees on agriculture. In 2009, the budget for inspections was cut by 53 percent.

Lawmakers are pushing to increase funding for agricultural inspectors and the building of a bio-security facility. Currently there is no facility at the Honolulu Airport dedicated to facilitating inspections.

There is also momentum for funding a program for detection dogs that can sniff out invasive species in luggage and cargo.

Ag Theft — House Bill 1524: Vandalism and theft cost local farmers about $12 million annually, according to Rep. Clift Tsuji, chair of the House Committee on Agriculture, who is working to increase penalties and tighten enforcement measures for the crimes.

A bill proposed last year was held over to this session. House Bill 1524 would require thieves to reimburse owners for the stolen or vandalized property, including replanting costs if necessary.

The legislation would also require people to carry ownership certificates for large quantities of ag products. A lack of certificate could be evidence of theft. This measure seeks to address the problem of people stealing produce and plants and then selling the products at places such as farmers markets.

Livestock Feed — House Bill 1540: Feeding farm animals can be expensive, especially with rising oil prices jacking up the cost of imported feed.

Animal feed comprises 70 percent of agricultural production costs, which have driven egg and dairy farms out of business, according to legislation proposed last year.

The bill would subsidize feed costs by up to $250,000 for qualified producers.

Food Safety — Senate Bill 2096: Many of the large supermarkets require farmers to obtain costly food safety certifications. For smaller operations the cost can be prohibitive. A bill is being proposed that would cut the costs by enabling the Department of Agriculture to process the certifications for farmers.

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