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UPDATED 9/7/11 3:36 p.m.
In the opposing camp, detractors argue that the Hoopili development will cover up coveted farmland that supplies Hawaii with much-needed produce every year. The land is leased by Aloun Farms, owned by Alec and Mike Sou.
Developing the land, critics argue, will add to Hawaii’s food insecurity. Despite having optimal growing conditions, the state imports about 85 percent of its food.
“I have been quoted as saying that this is the best farmland in the state. I stand corrected by Dr. Goro Uehara, Professor of Soil Science at the University of Hawaii who has studied soils in many different countries. He says this is the best farmland in the world.”
Dudley confirmed this position to Civil Beat, saying that “when we say best, we mean it’s the highest producing.”
Civil Beat was unable to reach Dr. Uehara, who has retired from the University of Hawaii. But we did fact check whether Aloun Farms is sitting on the best farmland in the state.
Local soil specialists agree that it’s great farmland, but declined to go so far as to say it’s the best in Hawaii.
“I would not call them the best soils in the state of Hawaii,” said Jonathan Deenik, a soil quality and soil fertility specialist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “But they certainly have high potential for food production.”
The Hawaii Land Use Commission will meet this week to consider a request by the Sierra Club and Sen. Clayton Hee to intervene in proceedings to reclassify the farmlands for the Hoopili development. They oppose the development.
Aloun Farms produces a wide range of produce including pumpkin, cantaloupe, honeydew, sweet corn, broccoli, beans, romaine lettuce, zucchini, bananas, parsley, cabbage, won bok, green onion, ewa sweet onions and watermelon.
The land’s prime growing conditions garnered it the name, “The Golden Triangle,” during the sugarcane days because it produced the highest yield in tons per acre of sugar, Alec Sou said.
UPDATED The Sou brothers, who lease the land from D.R. Horton, could be displaced by the Hoopili development when the lease ends at the end of 2013.
The state has a classification system for Hawaii’s lands that rates parcels from ‘A’ to ‘E’ based on their productivity. The rating system is based on the University of Hawaii’s Land Study Bureau, which did the classifications in the 1960s and 1970s.
The Aloun Farms land is classified as ‘A’ and ‘B’, indeed making it top agricultural land. Other land in the state has this ranking, particularly on Oahu. The Big Island has no ‘A’ land, nor does Lanai. Maui and Kauai both have ‘A’ and ‘B’ rated land, as does a small portion of Molokai.
It’s hard to classify land as “the best,” because it depends on what it is going to be used for, said Russell Yost, a researcher and soil specialist at the University of Hawaii. For instance, the land probably wouldn’t be ideal for taro because of limited water.
But he said there was no doubt that it’s some of the best land in the state.
“It’s very, very high-quality land for producing many kinds of things,” said Yost. “There’s no questions about that. It’s really, really excellent land.”
“It’s sad and discouraging to see it disappear from ‘ag’ production when you consider sustainability issues in the islands,” he said. “We are so dependent on shipments of our food and that kind of soil resource is exactly what we need to be using to reverse that trend.”
Bottom line: While it can’t unequivocally be said that it’s the best soil in the state, Aloun Farms has some of the very best land for farming in Hawaii.
The maps below indicate the most productive lands in the state. The darkest green parcels are rated as ‘A’ lands. The second darkest green parcels are ‘B’ lands. The maps are based on data from the Land Use Bureau.