Most people in Hawaii have heard we import approximately 90 percent of our food, yet many people may not realize the vast majority of locally grown food is grown on Oahu.

Hawaii’s two largest produce farms and the majority of mid‐sized farms are located on Oahu. One farm harvests over a million pounds of produce each week. While some farms sell high‐end produce to select locations, most produce goes to outlets like Costco, Subway, and other places where we all rely on low‐cost, nutritious food.

Oahu farms are productive and remain competitive with imported produce for two reasons. First, they are close to the state’s largest market and population center. Farmers drive their product to market cheaply and quickly, where it is fresher and lasts longer than imported produce. Second, the scant acreage of farmland remaining on Oahu contains some of the best soils in the state and access to water, resulting in very productive farms.

Farmers tend the fields below elevated rail after HART officials proclaimed finishing over 1 mile. 3 dec 2014. photograph Cory Lum

Farm workers tend a field in West Oahu. Development is displacing agricultural land at a troubling pace.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Despite these successes and the potential for expanding local food production, Hawaii agriculture is at a tipping point. Hoopili will displace a significant amount of active farm land and Koa Ridge will displace even more. The Oahu General Plan calls for additional housing in the primary urban centers and preservation of agriculture on Oahu’s North Shore.

Large and mid‐sized Oahu farms have been unable to obtain long‐term land leases on most of the private lands on which they operate. This is not due to any business failure – any farm steadily producing thousands to a million pounds of produce a week is a solid business. This is because the land owners can make a greater profit if the land is, now or later, developed for housing.

Oahu does not have much farm land left; less than 17 percent of the island is usable agricultural land. Perhaps 10 percent is located in the Oahu breadbasket with the soil, water, infrastructure and access to markets. In contrast, nearly 30 percent of the island is classified urban, with the remaining lands in the mountains and other conservation areas.

Dole Food Co., the last Oahu plantation with significant land holdings, is now selling 16,000 acres of agricultural and conservation lands in the middle of this breadbasket. If we take a passive approach, these lands may ultimately be sold to investors who have no interest in agricultural production but would rather develop gentlemen estates, fake farms or suburban housing.

Historically, zoning and land use regulations have had marginal success in limiting housing developments on agricultural lands. But even if they can stop development, zoning cannot force an owner into agricultural production. What we need are working farms with long‐term leases that allow them to invest in their business, and sufficient land to produce the steady crops our market demands.

We have an opportunity to achieve this goal by purchasing the best agricultural lands on the market today, and providing long‐term leases to active farms. The timing is right because interest rates remain at historical lows and land values will not be cheaper in the future.

State acquisition of 8,000 acres of high-quality agricultural lands from Dole will help fulfill our constitutional mandate to “conserve and protect agricultural lands, promote diversified agriculture, increase agricultural self‐sufficiency and assure the availability of agriculturally suitable lands.”

Let’s do this.

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