Richard Ha writes:
We’ve had a series of lunch meetings with our fertilizer distributor over the last several months.
Back in May, we discussed the news that fertilizer prices were rising faster and higher than usual. Knowing that this was related to energy prices rising at an accelerating rate, we knew things were going to get tough. He told us that he was worried for his small farmers, and that some were actually dipping into their savings to buy fertilizer. We knew was very bad news.
In June, we had lunch and learned that fertilizer prices were going even higher. Our distributor expressed very strong concern for papaya farmers and other small farmers. His fertilizer sales were dropping, he said, and he wasn’t sure it was due to dry weather, which is expected, or to farmers dropping out of farming due to high fertilizer costs and low returns. He suspected the worst. But because of the extremely dry weather right then he wasn’t sure.
A few weeks ago, the rains came back. I gave it some time and then called him to ask if, with the change in weather, farmers had resumed buying fertilizer.
His answer was NO! That many farmers did not return to order fertilizer. Small farmers who have no capital investment can just drop out and then drop back in when the economic climate is right. These farmers, he told us -- who were squeezed by rising costs on one side and shrinking margins from distributors and retailers on the other -- have quit farming.
There are other farmers, though, who sell at Farmers Markets and to retailers like KTA and Foodland, which sticks with their farmers through thick and thin. Those farmers are doing okay. And now Whole Foods is coming into the market, and all indications are that they, too, will work with farmers through thick and thin.
This type of relationship is the wave of the future. I'm convinced that very soon, Hawai‘i's people will realize how important it is that we all support local farmers.
They are the ones who will feed all of us when the "ships not going come."