Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of columns by Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz discussing why Hawaii is not doing as much as it could to boost the economy and how it can be better.

Agriculture is at a critical crossroads in Hawaii now more than ever. Over the years we have heard time and time again about the diversification of the industry, food sustainability and security, and the importance of preserving agricultural land. Looking over the past two legislative sessions, numerous bills were introduced to address the concerns of our farmers yet only a few became a realities: dams and reservoir maintenance, Act 154 and 155 (2011), commercial based operations for farmers on their farmlands, Act 113 (2012), assuring that the state has an agricultural easement when using public funds to purchase fallow farmlands, Act 284 (2012), and requesting the Agribusiness Development Corporation to acquire lands for improvements and infrastructure, SR101 (2012).

Unfortunately, a lack of vision, planning, coordination and not making the proper investments have left the industry limping along the last several decades. Thousands of acres without infrastructure and the absence of long-term leases for farmers and ranchers have only compounded the challenges. We have not restructured government to appropriately respond to the globally competitive situation that places Hawaii farmers at a severe disadvantage. Due to evolving Federal regulations and an increasing amount of low-priced imports from all around the world, some local farmers have abandoned their efforts and younger generations feel the situation too overwhelming and difficult to pursue.

Now is the time for us to show and execute leadership in creating a successful revenue- generating model for agriculture that we can later template all across our State. This past session, the legislature took steps to build upon the future acquisition of the Galbraith Estate. Coined the Whitmore Village Agricultural Development Plan, this initiative will enable us to revitalize a disadvantaged community, create jobs at every level in agriculture, and hopefully bring back agricultural dominance to Central Oahu. With the recent Land Use Commission approvals of Hoopili and Koa Ridge and thousands of acres of active agricultural land becoming urban, we must have a comprehensive and strategic plan to turn thousands of acres of fallow agricultural land into active and productive farms.

What is the Whitmore Village Agricultural Development Plan?

The Whitmore Village Agricultural Development Plan is an effort to help revitalize the economy and agricultural production in Central Oahu, once a region that led the industry with pineapple and other crops. The main objectives are to:

  • demonstrate that farming is an attractive profession, agriculture is revenue generating, and a career in agriculture will allow a new generation of farmers the ability to live and work in Hawaii;
  • create synergy and scale resulting in reduced costs of farming and ensuring supporting systems and activities become efficient; and
  • develop a comprehensive, economically sustainable plan for agriculture that includes farms, packing and processing facilities, distribution systems, infrastructure and water, agri-tourism opportunities, public-private partnerships and long-term investments.

This plan includes the Agribusiness Development Corporation (ADC), Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), private sector partners and small, medium and large local farms.

Why Agribusiness Development Corporation?

The ADC’s sole mission is to acquire, and manage in partnership with farmers, ranchers, and aquaculture groups, selected high-value lands, water systems, and infrastructure for commercial agricultural use and to direct research into areas that will lead to the development of new crops, markets, and lower production costs. Also, ADC is better equipped to secure partnerships on its land included in The Whitmore Village Agricultural Development Plan.

An example of ADC’s ability to move quickly is the joint-venture with the Kekaha Agricultural Association (KAA). The KAA manages the land which eliminates and reduces certain costs. KAA and ADC share revenues from KAA assessments. KAA also assumes a great amount of operation and maintenance responsibilities for the irrigation and infrastructure. With its powers and flexibility, ADC is capable of placing farmers on the land much sooner than any other agency. Increasing ADC’s land inventory will give the State greater opportunities to create public-private partnerships and attract more private investment. Simply put, DOA has a primary focus of regulation and ADC has a focus of developing agriculture into a commercial activity that is profitable.

What Actions are Needed?

Although we have not finalized the purchase of the 1,723 acres of Galbraith Estate, there were a number of measures introduced to ensure a comprehensive approach to this regional concept called the Whitmore Village Agricultural Development Plan. A few measures did not pass but we are still able to complete this vision by taking the following actions:

Action Item 1: Finalize Galbraith Estate acquisition and execute MOA between OHA and ADC

Conclude the agreement between The Trust for Public Lands and Bank of Hawaii for the 1,723 acres of Galbraith Estate. The purchase is comprised of two parcels. OHA will receive 500 acres and 1,223 to ADC. The total cost of the two parcels is $25 million which the state contributed $13 million via Act 180 (2010). The City and County of Honolulu, the Federal Government and other sources are providing the remaining $12 million. To prevent state funding from lapsing, Representative Marcus Oshiro, Chair of the House Committee on Finance, inserted a proviso this past session that would extend the expiration date beyond its June, 2012 deadline. It is our hope the state will obtain title of the 1,723 acres within a few months.

Since OHA currently has no plans for the 500 acres that is to be transferred to them, it is important for the 500-acre parcel to be in ADC’s inventory. The City and County of Honolulu and the U.S. Army will each obtain an easement of the property. Further, a condition will be placed on the land that it must be kept in agriculture for perpetuity. Although the 5-acre Kukaniloko Birthstones exist in the middle of the 500 acres that is to be transferred to OHA, that cultural site will remain under the jurisdiction of the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). ADC and OHA will need to enter into a contract in order for ADC to take over the management of OHA’s 500-acre parcel or to negotiate access. A contract or memorandum of agreement (MOA) is critical to ensure that all potential agricultural lands are properly incorporated into the Whitmore Village Agricultural Development Plan.

Once ADC takes possession of the Galbraith Estate, it will be able to offer long-term license agreements and public-private partnership contracts to local farmers for the use of 50 to 200 acres each within the 1,723-acre plan.

Action Item 2: Release funds for 24-acre parcel (TMK 7-1-02-09) in Whitmore Village, Act 106 (2012), Item 12.01, AGR161 – State Packing and Processing Facility, Oahu, and develop an agricultural commercial development park with public-private partnership investment

Due to the guidance and assistance of Senator Michelle Kidani, the State Legislature included $3.6 million in Act 106 (2012), the capital improvements budget, for the purpose of purchasing the 24-acre parcel in Whitmore Village currently owned by Castle and Cooke. The property was a hub for Dole Pineapple for more than 70 years, containing packing and processing functions, administrative operations, and research and development activities. Existing infrastructure and land entitlements on the property allow for the same ventures to be re-established.

This 24-acre parcel, situated only minutes away from the 1,723 acres of Galbraith Estate, will be the center of packing, processing, storing, and administrative functions for the Whitmore Village Agricultural Development Plan. As mentioned, ADC will offer long-term license agreements and public-private partnership contracts to local farmers for the use of 50 to 200 acres each within the 1,723-acre plan. Each farmer will also be offered an assigned area within the 24-acre parcel to develop or redevelop a building for operations.

In essence, an agricultural commercial development park would be created. It will be a “hui” of public-private partnerships organized by ADC. Again, this piece of the system offers participating farmers a place to house packing, processing, storing, and administrative functions. This provides the chance to better leverage pricing for materials and operational costs (i.e. security, distribution of products, purchasing of packing materials, etc.). The 24-acre agricultural development park is in walking distance of hundreds of homes and thousands of residents in Whitmore Village. This is a major opportunity to finally reconcile where people live and where they work. This is the type of economic development we need in our rural communities.

About the author: Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz represents parts of central Oahu and the north shore. Most recently, he served as Chair of the Committee on Water, Land, and Housing.