The corporation said the move signaled a new era of transparency for the agency.

Just over 3,000 acres of unused land owned by the Agribusiness Development Corp. will soon be up for lease, as it opens up the remainder of its land portfolio.

The new ADC land leases would be for 2,950 acres on Kauai in Kekaha, 160 acres in Kalepa, Kauai, and 65 acres in Central Oahu.

The process will include the ADC assessing expressions of interest from farmers and food producers to help inform the corporation’s strategic plan in coming years. It’s the agency’s first major move with a new board of directors and new executive director, Wendy Gady.

ADC owns thousands of acres across Kauai and Oahu, including former sugarcane lands in Kekaha. (Anita Hofschneider/Civil Beat/2015)

Tenanting the remainder of ADC’s land portfolio is in keeping with its 2023 strategic objective to lease out all of its agriculturally viable holdings — just over 16,000 acres of its 22,000-acre portfolio in the state.

It was part of the board’s suite of “aggressive goals” to increase food production for local consumption, board chair Warren Watanabe said in a press release.

The announcement also showed a “new level of transparency” from the board, Watanabe said.

The bulk of land up for lease is on Kauai, though 65 acres are yet to be tenanted in Whitmore. (Courtesy: ADC)

The decision comes some six months after the unexpected death of longtime leader James Nakatani and the departure of former chair Frederick Lau, soon after.

The ADC has faced scrutiny for the entirety of its 30-year lifespan but in 2021 was lambasted by the Hawaii State Auditor for working in obscurity and not fulfilling its mandate, under the previous leadership.

The audit criticized its land management practices, among other things, for being “in disarray.”

The agency was also criticized for unmanaged lands that were hosting homeless encampments, becoming overrun with invasive grasses and becoming dumping grounds for trash.

  • ‘Hawaii Grown’ Special Series

How Much For Leases?

Opening the lands for lease is a promising move by the corporation, says Hunter Heaivilin, government relations representative for Hawaii Farmers Union United.

“I think the opportunity for affordable leases is an important mechanism, one where our government provides a sort of subsidy to agriculture,” Heavilin said.

Questions over lease rates, the size of parcels and other lease conditions are yet to be answered, though Heaivilin says he hopes the process will give a better understanding of how much farmers should be paying for agricultural leases in Hawaii.

The ADC is doing so by asking for broader expressions of interest, according to Gady.

ADC Executive Director Wendy Gady (Courtesy: ADC)

Depending on individual farmer and producer needs, the ADC will work to help provide the right environment for their agricultural businesses, she said.

“It’s a strong call to the entire ag community, to invite them all to tell us: Where should we work with you? Where do you want help?” Gady said in an interview.

The leases signal an intent to build a more collaborative approach between the ADC and food producers in increasing the state’s food production, she said. “We’re rewriting agriculture in Hawaii and it takes a lot of people to do that.”

She said the call is an “invitation to diverse farmers, to diverse ways of farming.”

The call for expressions of interest does not have a deadline and all farmers and food producers are invited to submit as the ADC board of directors revisits its strategic plan for the coming year.

“It’s the beginning of a very long conversation and good conversations never end,” Gady said.

“Hawaii Grown” is funded in part by grants from Ulupono Fund at the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Frost Family Foundation.

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