Richard Ha writes:
I haven’t mentioned this yet, but we have been phasing out production of our tomatoes.
This came about because of what I’ve been saying here for years: The price of oil has raised farming costs substantially. The pluses of growing our hydroponic tomatoes were no longer exceeding the minuses.
When we started growing tomatoes back in 2002, we had been banana growers. Oil prices were low and banana prices were also low; it was hard to make a living that way. We needed to diversify, which is one of the reasons we went into tomatoes. It was a good decision.
But costs have been increasing drastically, and our tomato growing infrastructure is getting old and will start falling apart soon, so we had to make a decision. Do we take it apart and rebuild the tomato houses? Or do we replace them? Replacing them would cost an eye-opening three times what it cost 12 years ago when we put them up.
It’s a real-life consequence of what I keep saying here: The price of oil is four times higher than it was 10 years ago and there are significant consequences. Everything costs so much more now. We are in the middle of major changes and most people don’t even realize it.
We took into account that our customers are under increasing economic pressure, as well—meaning they have less disposable income—and that our tomatoes are a high-end product. We also knew, as we made this decision, that oil and other costs are expected to keep rising.
Our plan had always been to take our tomato farming to the next step, which would have been to leverage our excess hydroelectricity in a controlled environment that allowed us to exclude insects and optimize light and temperature. Unfortunately, it just took too long to get our hydro plant operating.
It’s been a very difficult decision, and one that we’ve been carefully considering and making for quite some time, taking not only all these conditions into account but also our next generation. As hard as it’s been to make this decision, we all agreed it was the right thing to do. It allows us to continue farming.
We’re definitely not closing up shop; just refocusing our farming efforts based on economic factors.
We will stay in bananas. They do well in our rain and deep soil and other conditions. The banana infrastructure we have in place, such as the coolers and concrete, is good for another 20 years. The pluses exceed the minuses.
I continue to be very interested in producing a cost-effective protein source here on the farm, such as tilapia and other fish. We are currently working on the problems of protein feed and oxygenation of water, which we can do with gravity and electricity. We’re always thinking about where we need to be in 10 or 20 years.
And I’ll let you know what other interesting projects crop up along the way.
In the meantime, you’ll see our Hamakua Springs Country Farms tomatoes until the end of November; that’s when the last of them will come off the vines, go through our packing houses, and hit the supermarkets.
We thank you for supporting, and enjoying, our tomatoes all these years.
Richard Ha writes:
We are seeing a real problem with Banana Bunchy Top Virus, which I wrote about here.
The number of cases we are seeing around town is alarming. This is on Kawailani Street in Hilo. The Department of Agriculture has been notified.
This is on Komohana St. in Hilo.
If you see the virus, call the Department of Agriculture.
A guest post by Lynn Paul Richardson:
Pressure on banana farmers, due to the Banana Bunchy Top Virus (BBTV), has been steadily increasing over the past four years in East Hawaii. At first, we would rarely see an infection. One infection every three months at our farm in Kurtistown was manageable. There were no cases visible from the main public roads between Kurtistown and Hilo.
Two years ago I began to notice infections in the Kea‘au village area. Most were on the edges of papaya farms, with a few in nearby yards. Papaya farmers often grow a few banana mats on the edges of their fields for home use. We have been educating these farmers about the importance of treating and destroying the infected plants.
Since the beginning of this year, 2014, there has been a large increase in infected plants in homeowners' yards in Kurtistown, Kea‘au and Hilo. These infections also are increasing in subdivisions such as Paradise Park.
WE NOW FIND AND TREAT THREE TO FIVE INFECTIONS ON OUR FARM EVERY WEEK.
BBTV was discovered in Australia 100 years ago. Their method of control is the ONLY successful BBTV control program that exists today. Government inspectors monitor for the disease on a continuous basis. They are allowed to treat BBTV whenever and wherever they find it.
Homeowners are only allowed to plant bananas where they can be seen from the public roadways. All persons must obtain certificates stating that banana plants are disease free before they can be moved to new locations. This keeps the disease pressure low on farmers and hobbyists. Wild bananas are destroyed to prevent them from becoming reservoirs for BBTV.
If Hawaii fails to create an effective BBTV control program, only farms with large buffer zones will be possible in the not-too-distant future. Backyard patches will fail at increasingly higher rates until they no longer produce.
As farmers, we think it would be wise to copy what Australia has been doing successfully. We do not need to reinvent the wheel and risk failure.
It may be possible to create a genetically modified banana that can resist BBTV. The drawback would be the loss of the many cultivars Hawaii currently enjoys, as the economics would dictate that only a few varieties could be saved through GMO technology. Banana farmers would prefer the non-GMO method.
Richard Ha writes:
We've noticed an uptick lately in the number of banana plants in and around Hilo town that are affected with the banana bunchy top virus (BBTV). Banana farmers are constantly watching for this, and lately we are seeing more of it.
We brought up this disturbing trend with Scott Enright, who is chair of the Department of Agriculture. Kamran Fujimoto had been concentrating on BBTV, but recently he has been focusing on fire ants and coconut rhinocerous beetle and traveling to O‘ahu.
Banana farmers have a tradition of being proactive. Lynn Richardson, who is a veteran banana farmer, had made a BBTV page on Facebook.
We would much rather be proactive and keep the disease under control than need to seek a GMO solution. Australia has a successful BBTV control program going, but it does have a law in place that allows inspectors to go into a person's yard to eradicate infected plants.
Our banana farmers report new infections as they see them, but we have been losing ground lately and it is a big concern.
Scott Enright listened to the banana growers and he immediately assigned two people to work with Kamran. Scott is not one to fool around. He moves fast.
Richard Ha writes:
I have been a banana farmer for many years and I have seen the exact moment when all the bananas snap off the trees.
It happens all at once. The wind gets stronger and stronger and you can feel the strain. And then, somewhere around 55 mph, all the bananas snap at once. One second before they were all standing, and then the next, you can see in all directions where formerly banana trees blocked the view.
Not many have seen that happen, but I have. I hope I don't see it again.
Richard Ha writes:
Richard Ha writes:
Dr. Michael Shintaku shared this article with me. It’s about a biotech solution to a blight that was threatening the American chestnut.
The near-extinct American chestnut looks set to make a comeback. Genetically modified trees, which are resistant to a deadly fungus that has decimated the species, have produced the first resistant chestnuts. From these seeds, countless resistant trees could be grown in the wild.
An estimated 4 billion American chestnut trees (Castanea dentata) once covered the US, accounting for a quarter of all US hardwood trees. But in around 1900, a lethal fungus called Cryphonectria parasitica was accidentally imported in chestnut trees from Asia, and by the 1950s it had almost completely wiped out the American chestnut....
Hopefully, here in Hawai‘i we can be prepared in case a fungus starts killing off all our ‘ohi‘a trees.
The rose apple trees in East Hawai‘i are currently all dying from a fungus; have you noticed? The dying trees are everywhere.
All the mai'a maoli and popoulu cooking bananas, which came from the south way back when with the Polynesian settlers, are gone now, because they got Fusarium Wilt.
Don't we want to have tools that will help us preserve our heritage and other valuable plants?
Richard Ha writes:
My friend Nate Hagens forwarded me this story yesterday. I’d been aware of this peripherally, but now this is serious and we are putting the issue front and center.
The gist of it is that a massive Chiquita banana plantation in Mozambique has a deadly banana disease that will likely spread, and probably already has.
From Popular Science.com:
Researchers fear that a relentless and virulent fungus could cripple the world's banana monoculture.
By Dan Koeppel Posted 05.13.2014 at 8:30 am
Two weeks ago, at a conference in South Africa, scientists met to discuss how to contain a deadly banana disease outbreak in nearby Mozambique, Africa. At fault was a fungus that continues its march around the planet. In recent years, it has spread across Asia and Australia, devastating plants there that bear the signature yellow supermarket fruit.
The international delegation of researchers shared their own approaches to the malady, hoping to arrive at some strategy to insulate Mozambique and the rest of Africa: a continent where bananas are essential to the lives of millions. They left the Cape Town-based meeting with an air of optimism.
Only days after the meeting, however, a devastating new survey of the stricken Mozambique farm was released. Scientists at the conference assumed that the fungus was limited to a single plot. The new report suggested the entire plantation was infested, expanding 125 diseased acres to more than 3,500. All told, 7 million banana plants were doomed to wilt and rot.
“The future looks bleak,” says Altus Viljoen, the South African plant pathologist who organized the conference. "There’s no way they’ll be able to stop any further spread if they continue to farm.” Worse, he says, the disease's rapid spread endangers banana crops beyond Mozambique’s borders...
The Mozambique banana plantation has what veteran banana farmers know as “Panama Wilt.” Long-time banana farmers in Hawai‘i remember when “Race 1, Panama Wilt” killed off Hawai‘i’s Bluefield bananas, the main variety grown here back then, as well as the banana varieties that the ancient Hawaiians brought in their canoes.
This disease in Mozambique is a variant of that one, called “Race 4, Fusarium Wilt.” This one affects and kills many banana varieties, including the Cavendish varieties, which are the main bananas in the world trade.
What’s most disturbing in this story is that Chiquita seems to have done a lot of things wrong when it started its new banana plantation in Mozambique. The company sent workers back and forth from Mozambique to Central America, when this disease easily spreads by soil on boots and clothing. The writer speculates that the disease is probably in Central America right now! As a long time banana farmer who knows about banana diseases, I too believe that it is probable.
The possiblity of this disease arriving here and decimating Hawai‘i’s banana industry is very real, and very scary. Our local banana industry is working closely with the University of Hawai‘i’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. I sent them this article, and the wheels are turning. This is no longer business as usual!
This same thing happened in Taiwan. They have the Race 4 disease there, and all their farmers now source their new plantings from Race 4-free tissue culture. They are selecting for resistance as they go along. The director of Taiwan’s lab is a graduate of UH Manoa and we visited that tissue culture facility once.
I’m debating whether I should start up our tissue culture lab again. In the meantime, we are relying heavily on the College of Tropical Ag. This is a very, very serious situation and it’s bigger than any of us alone. But I’m optimistic.
Richard Ha writes:
The New York Times just ran an excellent, balanced and well-received article on Hawai‘i Island’s recent GMO ban. It was written by Amy Harmon, a national correspondent for the Times who covers the impact of science and technology on American life. She’s won two Pulitzer Prizes for her work.
A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops
By AMY HARMON
KONA, Hawaii — From the moment the bill to ban genetically engineered crops on the island of Hawaii was introduced in May 2013, it garnered more vocal support than any the County Council here had ever considered, even the perennially popular bids to decriminalize marijuana.
Public hearings were dominated by recitations of the ills often attributed to genetically modified organisms, or G.M.O.s: cancer in rats, a rise in childhood allergies, out-of-control superweeds, genetic contamination, overuse of pesticides, the disappearance of butterflies and bees.
Like some others on the nine-member Council, Greggor Ilagan was not even sure at the outset of the debate exactly what genetically modified organisms were: living things whose DNA has been altered, often with the addition of a gene from a distant species, to produce a desired trait. But he could see why almost all of his colleagues had been persuaded of the virtue of turning the island into what the bill’s proponents called a “G.M.O.-free oasis.”
“You just type ‘G.M.O.’ and everything you see is negative,” he told his staff. Opposing the ban also seemed likely to ruin anyone’s re-election prospects.
Yet doubts nagged at the councilman, who was serving his first two-year term. The island’s papaya farmers said that an engineered variety had saved their fruit from a devastating disease. A study reporting that a diet of G.M.O. corn caused tumors in rats, mentioned often by the ban’s supporters, turned out to have been thoroughly debunked.
And University of Hawaii biologists urged the Council to consider the global scientific consensus, which holds that existing genetically engineered crops are no riskier than others, and have provided some tangible benefits.
“Are we going to just ignore them?” Mr. Ilagan wondered.
Urged on by Margaret Wille, the ban’s sponsor, who spoke passionately of the need to “act before it’s too late,” the Council declined to form a task force to look into such questions before its November vote. But Mr. Ilagan, 27, sought answers on his own. In the process, he found himself, like so many public and business leaders worldwide, wrestling with a subject in which popular beliefs often do not reflect scientific evidence…. Read the rest
Hawai‘i County Councilperson Margaret Wille, though, refers to this article as “Hogwash!”
She’s the local councilperson who spearheaded the Big Island biotech ban, and her comment on the New York Times article kind of says it all. In her second-to-last paragraph she lumps farmers in with “GMO apologists,” which makes us the enemy. We are not the enemy.
Her comment follows the New York Times article:
Hawaii Island Hawaii
The underlying message in this article is that pro-GMO is pro-science and those opposed are anti-science. Hogwash! It is the biotech corporations that politically obtained the USDA "political" exemption from being required to do premarketing health and safety tests. This political decision was based on the claim that GMO crops are "substantially equivalent" to the corresponding non-GMO crops. Instead of government required health and safety testing, uncontrolled "open field" testing is occurring right here in Hawaii on Kauai-- where all the evidence points to immune disruption of the young and unborn , as well as harm to the soil and adjacent aquatic life.. At the same time these same corporations obtain patent rights based on the distinction of their GMOs, allowing the intellectual property laws to function as the barrier to obtaining the information independent scientist needed to do long term studies.
And whenever an independent study is underway, the GMO offensive position is to discredit the scientist or buy out the organization, as occurred in the case of the international organization doing studies on the adverse affects of associated pesticides on bee populations.
The bottom line is that we passed Bill 113 despite all the opposition from Big Ag GMO proponents and their on island mouthpieces.
Hopefully in the future, the New York Times will curb its biased approach to coverage of GMO related issues.
Contrast Councilperson Wille with Councilperson Ilagan. What a difference.
At this point, it’s really not a matter of who can yell the loudest, but of sitting down and deciding where we want to end up, and how we’re going to get there. We have a very serious food security issue (I’ll be writing more about this next time) that, with our Peak Oil situation, is only likely to get worse.
We are not looking at a First Amendment situation here, where everyone’s opinion matters. Everyone is welcome to his or her opinion, but at this point, when it comes to making important policy for our people and our food security, we need to sit down and form the best policy we can, using the best science.
What was not covered in the New York Times article was Big Island farmers’ concern that the ban on biotech solutions only applies to Big Island farmers, and not their competitors on other islands or on the mainland.
The president of the Hawaii Papaya Industry Association asked why only papaya farmers are beng required to register their crops and pesticide usage. He said that papaya farmers feel like they are being treated like sex offenders.
And why is there a blanket ban on open air testing? With bananas, flying pollen makes no difference, because they don't have seeds.
Fusarium wilt killed off the mai‘a maoli as well as the mai‘a popoulu, two banana plants that came to Hawai‘i on the canoes. What if we could bring them back?
What if a virus threatens to kill off all our taro? Would we want to be able to try and save it? What would the ancient ones do?