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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Crop losses shut down Hilo packing facility

By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HILO, Hawai'i — Hawaiian Host Inc. announced yesterday that it will close its papaya packing plant in Hilo because the papaya ring-spot virus has reduced the crop.

With the ring-spot virus wiping out 14 percent of the Big Island's papaya crop, Hawaiian Host Inc. is closing its Hilo packing facility.

Advertiser library photo • April 24, 1997

The decision to close the plant, which opened 13 years ago, will affect 13 of the 14 workers. They will receive severance pay and assistance in seeking jobs, according to Dennis Teranishi, Hawaiian Host's president and chief executive officer.

The virus and reduced production have hit the industry hard, Teranishi said.

In addition, the Rainbow papaya, a new variety developed to resist the virus, has not been accepted in several markets, including Japan. The Rainbow is a genetically altered product designed by University of Hawai'i scientists.

"We don't see an improvement on the short term," said Teranishi, who has been involved in the industry for years, working with Amfac when it helped with wide-scale planting of papaya in Puna fields before the shutdown of Puna Sugar Co. in 1984.

Papaya production dropped by 14 percent in April compared with the same month last year. The Big Island accounts for more than 80 percent of the state's commercial crop.

In March, industry leaders said 1,000 acres of plants were under virus attack, representing a possible $3 million loss to papaya farmers. Teranishi said the general manager of the packing facility will be retained to phase out the operation and oversee the sale of equipment at the Railroad Avenue processing plant in Hilo's industrial area. The manager then will retire.

The 20 independent farmers who have been providing their fruit to Hawaiian Host are expected to begin using the four other packing operations in East Hawai'i.

"We don't foresee the closing to have a significant impact on the farmers," Teranishi said. Many of the 20 already are supplying some of their fruit to the other facilities, according to Teranishi.

Margarita "Dayday" Hopkins, Hawai'i County agricultural economic development specialist, said she fears that the closing will erode more of our foreign markets." she said.

Teranishi said the closure will allow Hawaiian Host to "to focus 100 percent of our efforts on our core business — manufacturing quality macadamia nut chocolates."